To what extent should Ritalin be accepted in education?

From the 1960s until now, there is a growing population of children that are diagnosed with ADHD. Ritalin is the number one medicine that is prescribed to people with this diagnosis. These children all have education at a certain level and therefore Ritalin is a form of medication that is, after an official diagnose, an accepted enhancement in education. In this essay I will argue that if we accept Ritalin as an enhancement for students diagnosed with ADHD we should accept it as an enhancement for all students. To explain my statement I will start with a definition of the concepts ADHD and Ritalin. Then I will explain why Ritalin is an enhancement. After that I will explain three arguments that support my claim. Then I shall raise an objection which I will refute. After that I will conclude that the acceptation of Ritalin for ADHD diagnosed in education means that it should be an accepted enhancement for all students. ADHD and the prescription of Ritalin also has effects in other settings than education, but I shall not focus on those settings in this essay.

As a start I would like to give a workable definition on the different concepts that are introduced. For ADHD I will use the definition of Michiel Lambalgen (2008). He states that “ADHD is a psychiatric disorder characterised by persistent and developmentally inappropriate levels of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity” (Lambalgen, Kruistum, & Parigger, 2008, p. 467). This means that ADHD has a wide scope and that the definition consists of a number of characterizations. There is no hard definition but this is workable as it is not this essay’s goal to argue if ADHD exists or not. Secondly the medicine Ritalin. In an essay of Bas Olthof (2013) he states that Ritalin is a medicine that is often prescribed to ADHD patients, it has methylphenidate as active substrate and it is said to enhance concentration (Olthof, Peeters, Schelle, & Haselager, 2013, p. 118). Toby Miller (2003) adds that It does so by replicating the function of neurotransmitters in arousing the nervous system (Miller & Leger, 2003, p. 22).

Ritalin, an enhancement?
This still leaves the question if the use of Ritalin by people who are diagnosed with ADHD is considered to be an enhancement. Something is considered to be an enhancement when usage improves human functioning beyond what is necessary to restore health. Health is determined by what other people of a similar age and gender can do. Focus and concentration is hard for all people who attend a form of education that does not fit them. For example when they should get a less theoretical form of education. Concentration is also hard when a subject is not of a person’s interest or when the level of education is too high. So problems in concentrating are the average. Ritalin is used to improve concentration in these situations so that people can attend the theoretical, not interesting or higher form of education. Therefore it is an enhancement.

Subjective diagnosis
Now that there is a workable definition for both ADHD and Ritalin and a proper explanation why Ritalin is considered to be an enhancement, I can explain my first argument. This is about the fact that subjective observations are used to diagnose ADHD. ADHD has a very wide scope which is based on characteristics. It has to be diagnosed by a doctor. According to Miller (2003) he does so by asking information on different people around the patient such as parents, teachers, and other caregivers in order to determine whether the symptoms are present for six months in at least two of the patient’s social settings (Miller & Leger, 2003, p. 22). But this information is not observed primarily, as there is a good possibility that the symptoms do not appear in the doctor’s office. Meaning that this information is already subjective. Furthermore, families are not the same. Whether the symptoms appear in the social setting of a family also depends on the family itself. When a family, and therefore also the patient, lives a very active life with lots of outdoor activities it is much less likely that symptoms appear than when a patient and his family have a more passive life. For example, ADHD characteristics are less likely to appear when a common family activity is cycling then when it is reading books. The same reasoning applies on the social setting of school. Whether or not the symptoms appear depends on the type of education. In a very theoretical learning path it is more likely that ADHD symptoms appear than when school has a very practical content. This means that ADHD and the possibility to use Ritalin is not always diagnosed on the same grounds, but students can experience the same problems when they have an activity that needs strong concentration.

Educational goals of enhancement
The second argument is based on the goals of using enhancements. Ritalin is not the only form of enhancement that is applied in education. A very common way to enhance students is the use of specialized educational programmes for students who need extra lessons or students who excel in certain ways. According to Olthof (2013) Schools and universities use these programmes because they think that all possible efforts should be made to develop students to their fullest potential. They want this fullest potential because it will increase a country’s economic position. These special programmes are allowed in education, while Ritalin is not even though they both serve the same goals. (Olthof, Peeters, Schelle, & Haselager, 2013, p. 124) According to Miller (2003) Ritalin provides greater obedience and focus to children not diagnosed with ADHD. Research proves that Ritalin has correlations with improved academic performance and better results at school (Miller & Leger, 2003, p. 23). This means that Ritalin also ensures the development of the fullest potential of students and therefore it will most likely also lead to an increased economic position of a country. So when specialised educational programmes are allowed as an enhancement and Ritalin is allowed as an enhancement for ADHD diagnosed students, both applied to reach the same goals as written above, the extent of acceptance to use this enhancement should be on the same level. So both enhancements should be accepted for all students.

The health-objection
An objection raised against allowing the use of Ritalin for all students is the danger for the user’s health. Miller (2003) says that Ritalin is known for the possibility of producing anorexia, but this ends when the user stops using it. It can also play a role in the development of tics, Tourette’s Syndrome and growth disorders, but all is related to the extent and the quantity of use (Miller & Leger, 2003, pp. 23-24). There are two arguments that can prove this objection to be false. Firstly, when we think that the use of Ritalin is too dangerous for people’s health, why do we think it is okay when it is used for people with ADHD in school classes, just to enhance their concentration? Especially when we take into consideration that you don’t need the highest form of education to live a happy life. There are enough other forms of education that can be attended without a high norm of concentration. For example, education that has a more practical content. Secondly there are a lot of things that we are allowed to use but have a bad health issue too. And most of the time they have a less important goal. For example a television in the bedroom. It gives a risk of sleeping disorders, but it influences the development of the people much less than Ritalin.

As a conclusion I can say that there are two arguments that support my claim. Firstly the argument of the subjective diagnose of ADHD, which enables an unequal use of Ritalin in education. Secondly the argument of reaching educational goals by using enhancements which compares another form of enhancement with the use of Ritalin and makes clear that they both serve the same goals. Then I raised an objection about the health risks on using Ritalin which I refuted. These arguments and this refuted objection support my claim that when we accept Ritalin as an enhancement for students diagnosed with ADHD we should accept it as an enhancement for all students. Based on the arguments above it is also possible to argue for full prohibition of Ritalin in education, also for people diagnosed with ADHD, but this also raises doubts on the existence of ADHD which was not the goal of this essay.


Lambalgen, M. v., Kruistum, C. v., & Parigger, E. (2008). Discourse Processing in Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Journal of Logic, Language and Information, 467.

Miller, T., & Leger, M. C. (2003). A very Childish Moral Panic: Ritalin. Journal of Medical Humanities, 19, 22, 23, 24.

Olthof, B., Peeters, A., Schelle, K., & Haselager, P. (2013). Applying the reasoning behind the development of honours programmes to other forms of coginitive enhancement. In If you’re smart, we’ll make you smarter (pp. 19, 120, 122, 124).


This essay was rated as an assignment for the Premaster Philosophy EBO @ Tilburg University

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