Brats—now we call them hyperactive children—used to be disciplined; these days they are given drugs. Many psychologists and school officials insist that Ritalin is the best treatment for children suffering from hyperactivity, or the “attention deficit disorder.” As a matter of routine, 15-year-old Rod Matthews of Canton, Massachusetts, was put on Ritalin as a means of controlling his unacceptable behavior.

Unfortunately, this chemical infusion of virtue did not help. Making his own “value-judgement” after watching The Faces of Death (a snuff video), young Matthews killed a classmate, just to see “what it was like.” He even acquainted two other schoolmates with his plan. Two potential victims were rejected before 14-year-old Shaun Ouliette was picked, because “he wouldn’t be missed.” Rod Matthews enticed Shaun Ouliette into the woods, promising him fireworks, and bludgeoned him to death with a baseball bat. Then, he took his two friends to see the corpse. Throughout his March 1988 trial.

Rod Matthews sat impassively, as if the proceedings did not concern him. His mother also didn’t betray much emotion:—the passion was provided by the defense attorney, John Philip White, who argued that “[Rod Matthews’] pleas for help were ignored by teachers and friends.”

White’s calls for the medicalization of blame for Rod Matthews’ crimes were disregarded by the jury. Despite over a century of scientific search for the bacillus of sin, the court sentenced Matthews to “life imprisonment” (usually 15 years in Massachusetts).

Ostensibly, Rod Matthews will be rehabilitated by stronger drugs than Ritalin. Given time, perhaps murder will also become a life-style, following sodomy, mendacity, alcoholism, and theft—one-time crimes and vices that became diseases in our age. Rod’s parents can safely transfer their unfulfilled obligations to tax-paid professionals, after having been let down by their privately contracted vicars in childrearing.

The controversy over the use of drugs to manage children with the “attention deficit disorder” is not new. In the 1970’s, some parents filed lawsuits charging school officials with “dumping unruly, bored students on local clinicians who routinely prescribed amphetamine maintenance as a way out.” A 1987 survey by the Georgia State Composite Board of Medical Examiners showed that 45 percent of the state’s unusually high use of Ritalin was occurring in the “affluent suburbs north of Atlanta.”

“Among these people there is an intense desire to have their child excel,” said Andy Wary, the executive director of the board. But a group of parents from these same neighborhoods complained to a state lawmaker that “teachers were pressuring them to put their children on Ritalin.”

As one school leader of a parent group expressed it, “Schools want to medicate, not educate.”

At his trial, Charles Manson pointed out to the court that he was a product of the state in whose institutions he had grown up. Before his 30th birthday, Rod Matthews will be out of jail, unless some unreconstructed inmate does him in. (For all their horror, prisons still provide a cause-and-effect environment.) What he will have learned “inside” may only be surmised, given, so far, his exceptional education in Massachusetts. (MS)