Brave new Ritalin world

Henning Kullak-Ublick

In this utopian society it occurs to no one to rebel against their own function. That is ensured through a constant sequence of consumption, sex and the drug Soma which suppresses any questions, any doubts, any divergent feelings. 

I do not want to write about consumption and sex here but about Soma: in 1967, the American psychiatrist Leon Eisenberg began to attribute the psychiatric illness ADHD to some restless children who lacked concentration. This diagnosis was applied to increasing numbers of children and as a consequence led to the ever faster spread of medicines containing the active ingredient methylphenidate (MPH), familiar here mainly under the brand name Ritalin. The drug did not produce a cure but it had a calming effect and often led to better performance in school. And it also generated huge profits: in 2010 alone Novartis sold Ritalin to the value of 464 million dollars worldwide. If 34 kilograms of this substance were prescribed in Germany in 1993, that figure grew to 1.8 tonnes by 2010, sufficient for 250 000 children; four boys are prescribed Ritalin for every girl. Usage had grown fivefold within a period of only seventeen years. The same applies to the diagnoses leading to such high consumption. We now know: Ritalin is a fashion drug.

Can it really be true that we have to give 250 000 children a drug each day so that they can function in school? Can it really be true that four times as many boys “fall ill” with ADHD as girls? Or is a society, a school system ill which does not know what to do with these children? What do we have to change when more and more children and adolescents can no longer find their bearings in our schools, designed for competition and selection as they are?

We need schools which create space for the needs of the children entrusted to their care beyond any pressure to conform. The younger school classes in particular require educational teams which have the time to explore discovering the world with the children and can, as required, also act therapeutically. Our attention is asked, not conformity. Huxley’s “brave new world” only works because no one notices that they are merely functioning. Are we aware of it? Do we have the courage to run schools beyond conformity and selection? The children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are perhaps our best allies for rethinking school because they hold a mirror up to ourselves.

Henning Kullak-Ublick, class teacher since 1984 (currently on leave of absence), board member of the German Association of Waldorf schools  and the Friends  of Waldorf Education as well as Aktion mündige Schule (