With Friends Like These, Pity America’s Kids

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Thomas Szasz, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at SUNY in Syracuse, is the author of the forthcoming book, "Pharmacracy: Medicine and Politics in America" (Greenwood/Praeger)

Fifty years ago in America, there were children, there were schools and there were guns. But there were no “school shootings.” Now there are.

Many things contribute to this situation. The popular culprits to blame are violence in the movies and on TV, video games, the preponderence of guns, drugs, the Internet and busy parents. Millions of children are exposed to these things but only a few shoot their schoolmates and teachers. In the final analysis, children shoot up schools because they decide to do so. If we really want to know why, we might consider the following:

* Children are dependents. Regardless of whether they are treated badly or well, children are the prisoners of their parents and their schools.


* Schools are prisons, to which children are sentenced by compulsory education and truancy laws. School-prisons may be used to serve the following purposes: teaching literacy and mathematics--a goal that can be met in six years, or by the time a child is 12; vocational education or preparation for a higher education--goals that are not justified, and in fact, are hindered by, compulsion; social control,which requires and justifies compulsion and is antithetical to giving teenagers a choice about school attendance.

Using schools as institutions for social control makes them de facto criminal-psychiatric facilities, depriving children of liberty and, in some cases, labeling them with a psychiatric diagnosis in order to facilitate current and future social control.

Fifty years ago, there was no drug education in schools. School personnel did not forcibly administer drugs to children, and children did not use or abuse drugs, legal or illegal. Children also received neither sex education nor condoms in schools--and there were fewer teen pregnancies.

Fifty years ago, schoolchildren did not suffer from attention deficit disorder or depression, rarely killed themselves, did not go on shooting sprees and managed to grieve without “professional” help.

Fifty years ago, the people in charge of public schools took for granted that their main responsibility was to teach academics; safety was a given. Today, the people in charge of public schools assume that parents aren’t competent to teach their children life lessons, that only “professionals” are qualified to teach children “sex education,” “drug education,” “interpersonal skills” and “conflict resolution.”

The “educators” also believe that it is their duty to control what children put into their bodies and to ferret out what is in their minds. The main function of the public school is not education but social control. The result is that the schools are unsafe and test scores are dismal.


Fifty years ago, most people did not sentimentalize childhood as an age of innocence and worry-free happiness. Adults recognized that adolescence is a time filled with intense sexual urges doomed to frustration. Today, adults deny the intensity of adolescent sexual needs and try to control them through sex education and condom distribution--measures that invade privacy and confuse the adolescent’s sense of personal integrity.

Fifty years ago, people believed that some children were good and some were bad. Now everyone knows that all children are good, but some are mentally healthy and others are mentally ill.

In words and deeds, young people today tell us that they do not like being patronized, made to feel useless and baby-sat in day-care prisons called “schools.” School administrators, teachers, child psychiatrists, child psychologists, social workers, grief counselors, pharmaceutical companies and the many other businesses that profit from the education racket are not the friends of children as they proclaim. The economic and existential self-interests of these do-gooders are inimical to real education and rational discipline.

“Protect me from my friends; I will take care of my enemies,” says an old proverb. American children today have nothing but friends.

Is it any wonder they are bored, frustrated, angry, troubled and poorly educated and that, occasionally, some of them engage in desperate acts of destruction?