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End the D.A.R.E. Dynasty MAG
In times of economic distress and recession, like right now, priorities must be made. Sure, there are lots of worthy causes out there, but it's simply impossible to address all of them, however much we'd like to. Therefore, we need to look at the statistics to find the biggest problem and make that a priority. Many would assume cancer is the biggest issue: 555,000 people die from it every year. This is huge, but it's not the biggest. The greatest cause of death, killing 613,000 people each year, is drugs and alcohol.
Now, what exactly are we doing to prevent these deaths? It's a commonly held belief that the best way to battle drug and alcohol abuse is to start young – with our children. Currently, the task of prevention lies with the D.A.R.E. program that I, and many of my peers, went through.
D.A.R.E., the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, is used in 80 percent of U.S. school districts and 54 other countries; it is taught to 36 million students each year. D.A.R.E. consists of a series of lectures delivered by police officers over a 17-week period to teach children the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
Many notable studies have been done to assess the effectiveness of the D.A.R.E. program, including by Cornell Medical Center, the U.S. General Accounting Office, the U.S. Department of Education, the Surgeon General, the National Academy of Sciences, and so on. The one thing that these agencies have in common (besides being prestigious and credible) is they have found D.A.R.E. to be ineffective.
There are many reasons why D.A.R.E. does not work. At the top of the list is the simplicity of the program's message. Kids don't respond well to hyperbole – the “Just Say No” technique. While this may be a good method for teaching five-year-olds not to drink cleaning fluids, it hasn't proven effective in keeping teenagers from smoking pot. D.A.R.E. is also based on outdated theories of learning and human behavior; it fails to distinguish between legal and illegal substances; it views all use, even by adults, as abuse; and it presents a view of drug and alcohol use that's inconsistent with what most students observe in their lives.
Even Dr. William Hanson, who helped create the D.A.R.E. program back in 1983, believes the program has proven ineffective. “I think the program should be entirely scrapped and redeveloped anew,” he says.
According to Hanson, the program was based on the findings of three world-renowned psychologists: Bill Coulson, Carl Rogers, and Abraham Maslow. Dr. Hanson's website, www.alcoholfacts.org/DARE, reveals that Rogers and Maslow have themselves admitted that their theories were wrong and off-base. Coulson concluded that the D.A.R.E. program was “rooted in trash psychology.” You know a product is ineffective when even its cofounders say so.
The current administrators of D.A.R.E. have some interesting refutations of these claims of ineffectiveness. I promise we'll get to these, but we need to discuss one more fact: Studies done on D.A.R.E. not only found it ineffective; they often found it counterproductive.
One Houston, Texas, study of students who had gone through the D.A.R.E. program showed a 29 percent increase in drug use. One reason, Hanson explains, might be that D.A.R.E. makes drug and alcohol use seem more prevalent and normal than it actually is, which may encourage kids who are anxious to fit in to try these substances.
So, how do D.A.R.E. administrators respond? They have three basic refutations. The first is “Scientists tell you that bumblebees can't fly, but we know better.” I'm not sure what this has to do with anything, but I guess it's good enough for our federal government. The second refutation is that kids like D.A.R.E., therefore it works. It might just be me, but I don't think saying “kids like it” is a convincing justification. In fact, I'd go so far to say that kids not liking something is probably more indicative of success. The final defense is my favorite. D.A.R.E. says we should just believe that their program works. Now, when I tell my teacher to just believe I've done my homework, it usually doesn't work. However, when D.A.R.E. tells the federal government to just believe them when they say their program works, they get $1.3 billion.
Yes, $1.3 billion is spent annually on D.A.R.E. This is absolutely ridiculous. We all know how bad the economy is; it goes without saying that wasting over a billion dollars a year on a program as remarkably ineffective as D.A.R.E. is ludicrous. But that's what we're doing. That's what we've been doing for the last 27 years.
Therefore I advocate the following three-part solution for the federal government: First, eliminate the D.A.R.E. program. It's too late to fix it. D.A.R.E. claims that it is constantly revising its program, and in fact it has implemented a new curriculum called “keepin' it REAL” (or kiR). But is this change enough? D.A.R.E. has had the same agenda and the same messages for almost 30 years. It's time to end the D.A.R.E. Dynasty.
Second, invest in a new program. We need to ensure that we have measures in place to teach children the importance of not skipping down the yellow brick road of nicotine and pot. Luckily for us, a federal agency, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), has identified 66 model programs that would all be superior to D.A.R.E. Therefore, each state can pick one that would fulfill their needs.
Third, each state should establish a board to oversee the program. The members should include parents, leaders of Alcoholic Anonymous and drug rehabilitation centers, as well as AA members and former drug addicts. This board will help ensure the program is working and can make changes if it is not.
Do you dare eliminate D.A.R.E.? It's time to end this ineffective and expensive program that has reigned for almost three decades. Drugs and alcohol need to be our biggest priority, and the changes I recommended will actually save money, and be more effective. It's time to end the D.A.R.E. dynasty. Our children deserve it.
Share your experiences with drug and alcohol education in school. Do you agree that D.A.R.E. should be scrapped? What do you think would work better? Submit your feedback at www.TeenInk.com.