I attended my 10-year old son’s graduation from D.A.R.E. last night. He was proud of his accomplishment and I congratulated him enthusiastically. It was an hour-and-a-half long event—a very long time to ask a hundred fifth-graders and one fifty-four year old father to sit still—but the kids seemed very into it and were full of D.A.R.E.-loving energy.
A remnant from the early years of the war on drugs, D.A.R.E. is still a mainstay in many U.S. schools despite the fact that a number of studies have shown the program is not effective in reducing drug use. Knowing this put the graduation ceremony in disturbing perspective for me.
The master-of-ceremonies was uniformed Officer Schuveiller, an affable, easy-to-like man who obviously believed in the program. During the course of the evening, Officer Schuveiller mentioned at least three times that he had never smoked, had a beer or taken an illegal drug in his life. Good for him, I thought. He was certainly a better role model than 90 percent of the parents in the audience.
The theme of the evening was abstinence. Students read essays that were all only slight variations on the “I will never, ever, ever, ever…take drugs in my life” theme. Their insistence on this matter was passionate. Drugs kill people. Drugs ruin families. Drugs make you stupid. I will never touch drugs in my life.
You can’t blame the kids. The fact that they are fanatical about something they have no experience with is not their fault. Providing fifth-graders with a six-week abstinence-only sex education course conducted by the local Baptist church would produce similar results.
D.A.R.E. is not education but indoctrination. The program deals in absolutes and sets up standards of behavior that most students can never hope to meet. When they don’t measure up to the perfect Officer Schuveiller, when they behave like the fallible human beings they are, we all are, then the guilt sets in.
The program makes a distinction between good drugs and bad drugs, but it is laughably arbitrary, and as the children age, they will all understand this. “My Dad has a drink every night, and he’s the CEO of huge company.” “My brother smokes cigarettes, and he’s a lawyer.” The hypocrisy of the “touch drugs and your life is ruined” approach does not go unnoticed by kids, even at this young age.
And let’s not forget the aura of militarism surrounding the program. The course is run by policemen, not sociologists or drug therapists. Officer Schuveiller showed a video he created that was a collage of photos showing the kids in different settings during the program. One long stretch of shots involved a military helicopter landing in a field next to the school and all the kids lining up to see it and talk to the pilot. What possible connection is there between a military helicopter and an anti-drug program for kids?
None of this is to say that we should encourage children to take drugs. However, drugs are a part of our society and need to be dealt with realistically, not through the filter of a political or religious agenda. When we are hypocritical about drugs and drug use or rely on propaganda and cherry-picked science, as the D.A.R.E. program does, kids get very mixed messages.
D.A.R.E. has always been a band aid over the drug problem championed by reactionary politicians who care more about looking like they’re doing something than actually tackling a very complicated societal issue. Trying to brainwash kids into abstinence will never be successful, and D.A.R.E. should be scraped for a much more realistic, honest approach to drugs.