By Mark David Blum, Esq.
Welcome back to school boys and girls. This year, like every one of its predecessors, should be eye opening, enlightening, and filled with wonderment. Don’t just swallow what is being taught. Fight, debate, make your teachers work to convince you and to educate you. Nothing in life is to be taken at face value. “Learning” is the process of critical thinking.
D.A.R.E. is not such a program. Run by police instead of teachers, this program ultimately is a failure in its goals, and runs afoul of good science and citizenship. Kids, this is a waste of money that could be better used on subjects more relevant to your maturing into adulthood. Enough of this touchy-feely self esteem theory. Adults are taught how to make choices; only children are required to live in a world of absolutes dictated by others.
As your first lesson of the year, let me state point blank that D.A.R.E. is a failure and is even counter productive. In a recent six-year study by Dr. Dennis Rosenbaum, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, of 1,798 students, he found that "DARE had no long-term effects on a wide range of drug use measures"; DARE does not "prevent drug use at the stage in adolescent development when drugs become available and are widely used, namely during the high school years"; and that DARE may actually be counter productive. According to the study, "there is some evidence of a boomerang effect among suburban kids. That is, suburban students who were DARE graduates scored higher than suburban students in the Control group on all four major drug use measures."
A federally funded Research Triangle Institute study of Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) found that "DARE's core curriculum effect on drug use relative to whatever drug education (if any) was offered in the control schools is slight and, except for tobacco use, is not statistically significant."
The U.S. General Accounting Office reported, "There is little evidence so far that [D.A.R.E. and other "resistance training" programs] have reduced the use of drugs by adolescents" (U.S. GAO/GGD-93-82, "Confronting the Drug Problem," page 25).
According to the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, August 1999), "Our results are consistent in documenting the absence of beneficial effects associated with the DARE program.
This was true whether the outcome consisted of actual drug use or merely attitudes toward drug use. In addition, we examined processes that are the focus of intervention and purportedly mediate the impact of DARE (e.g., self-esteem and peer resistance), and these also failed to differentiate DARE participants from non-participants. Thus, consistent with the earlier Clayton et al. (1996) study, there appear to be no reliable short-term, long-term, early adolescent, or young adult positive outcomes associated with receiving the DARE intervention."
D.A.R.E.'s message to children is muddled and confusing. It doesn't tell kids that they must not use drugs. Instead, D.A.R.E. tells them that they have the "right to say no," implying that they have the "right to say yes." Despite the term in its name, D.A.R.E. doesn't teach kids what "drug abuse" actually is, or how it can be identified.
D.A.R.E. is not respectful of parents and other civilian adults. The D.A.R.E. video, called "The Land of Decisions and Choices," shown to students as part of Lesson 2, portrays all adults as drunks or other drug abusers, or senile...other than the D.A.R.E. officer. This film is a bizarre, brazenly exaggerated depiction of drug use. Although children are given a D.A.R.E. "workbook," students are encouraged to leave them at school and not take them home. I worry that the heavy emphasis on "resistance skills" subverts my own authority with my children.
It is a well-established fact that children's greatest drug risk is with alcohol and tobacco, yet D.A.R.E. is soft on those drugs, hammering almost exclusively on illicit drugs.
D.A.R.E. is based on unproven, and likely false, educational hypotheses. The most notorious of these is that using drugs is a symptom of low self-esteem or of high stress. Thus casual, responsible use of any drug (alcohol, caffeine, tobacco) by parents or anyone else is to be seen as pathological, or "abuse". DARE then alleges that self-esteem can be "built" by reciting state-sponsored catechisms. These catechisms consist of claims of "rights" which are said to have been conferred on fifth grade D.A.R.E. students. They include the "right to be happy" and the "right to be respected." When the class president, the captain of the football team, the school valedictorian, and half the faculty are functioning recreational drug users *not abusers, how do we convince maturing adults to critically accept a blanket policy that drug use equals drug abuse?
Why take the trained, educated, and certified teacher out of the classroom and replace them with someone who may have one or two years of criminal justice studies? There are already too few hours in the classroom for teaching. Removing teachers from 17 hours of prime instruction time is not productive to our educational goals. This may of course, explain why teachers are now lobbying to reinstate D.A.R.E.
Police should not be teaching our children about drugs or self esteem. The role of police is to protect the public safety, and to respond to emergencies. It is neither fair nor reasonable to expect them to take on the job of teaching mental health and attitudes. Nor it is helpful for civics education for children to be taught fictitious "rights." When a child grows up and learns that she was lied to about her "right to be happy," how will she feel about the officer who taught her otherwise, or the school in which she was so taught? If Johnny can't read, teachers bear accountability. If Johnny doesn't stay off drugs, will the police take responsibility for the failure of drug education in schools, and protect parents from any attribution of blame?
It is widely known that D.A.R.E. officers are instructed to put a "D.A.R.E. Box" in every classroom, into which students may drop "drug information" or questions under the pretense of anonymity. Officers are instructed that if a student "makes a disclosure related to drug use," the officer must report the information to further authorities, both school and police. This apparently applies whether the "drug use" was legal or illegal, harmless or harmful. In a number of communities around the country, the D.A.R.E. officer has enlisted students as informants against their parents. This is an offensive policy in that it interferes with my role as parent and teacher of my child's morality.
To those who argue that if the program succeeds with just one student, then it was all worth it. Respectfully, if we held our math, science, and literature departments to the same standard, we would be failures in educating and preparing our children for the future.
Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail: School Boards will not fund this failed policy, parents and the community will not stand behind those who seek to go against the public will, and teachers will do the job for which they were hired.