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Back To School: Is There a Prescription for Better Grades?

It used to be all you needed to do well on your high school chemistry test was a disciplined study plan, a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast. Nowadays you might want to add a dose of Ritalin or Adderall as well.

Or so some might believe.

The pressure to get good grades in order to be accepted by the best colleges and universities, combined with an often crushing load of extracurricular activities, has convinced an increasing number of high school students that the only way to stay ahead is through the use – and frequent abuse – of prescription drugs.

“It’s throughout all the private schools here,” said DeAnsin Parker, a New York psychologist who treats kids from affluent neighborhoods like the Upper East Side, in an interview with The New York Times. “It’s not as if there is one school where this is the culture. This is the culture.”

Adding to the problem is the fact that these drugs are all perfectly legal, although not always obtained by legitimate means. Some students will pretend to be suffering from classic symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) simply to be given a prescription that they will then use themselves or sell to others. Although these medications are designed to relax someone with this condition, those without the disorder find that it gives them the energy they need to study for hours on end and maintain focus during difficult tests.

Even though one of the students quoted in the Times article didn’t think ingesting these so-called academic steroids was any different from taking vitamins, the practice can lead to depression, mood swings and even long-term addiction to these and other drugs, both legal and illegal.

Asking these kids to “just say no” is not enough to get them to change course, especially when the apparent reward outweighs whatever risk is involved.

Perhaps a more effective strategy would be for parents and educators to instill and encourage a more balanced understanding of success; a stronger, more spiritually based sense of purpose and identity; and guidance on what does – and does not – help youth develop in these areas. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” suggests a well-known teacher from the ancient Middle East, “and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Presumably “all these things” would include decent grades and a good education.

I recall a time in college when adopting just such an approach prior to taking a final exam proved to be hugely beneficial. A friend and I had spent most the evening – and the better part of the early morning hours – preparing for a 3-hour essay-based test. After what was probably no more than a few hours sleep, we both aced the exam.

I’m pretty certain that Ritalin and Adderall hadn’t even been invented at the time, but that wouldn’t have mattered anyway. What I recall is being energized by the divinely inspired idea that I wasn’t being put in a position to prove anything but to express everything I’d been given by God, including intelligence, comprehensiveness, acuity, and so on. Not even a cup (or two or three) of coffee could have provided that kind of rush. They weren’t even required to keep me awake.

While I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what I learned from that class, at least from an academic standpoint, I’ll never forget what I learned of my own – and everyone’s – divinely endowed, divinely sustained, gifts.

“The human mind, imbued with this spiritual understanding, becomes more elastic, is capable of greater endurance, escapes somewhat from itself, and requires less repose,” writes Mary Baker Eddy, a Christian theologian and educator herself. “A knowledge of the Science of being develops the latent abilities and possibilities of man. It extends the atmosphere of thought, giving mortals access to broader and higher realms. It raises the thinker into his native air of insight and perspicacity.”

Endurance. Acuteness and comprehensiveness. Insight and perspicacity. These are just what every student desires and requires in order to be successful, both in school and throughout life. It’s also what every one of us has the capacity to inspire and support.

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