President Bush has declared this Thursday to be National D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Day. For someone so keen on slashing funding for ineffective social programs, this endorsement of D.A.R.E. is awfully perplexing.
Consider that in January of 2003, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) found “no significant differences in illicit drug use between students who received D.A.R.E. and students who did not.” Even back in 2001, the U.S. Surgeon General allocated D.A.R.E. to the “ineffective programs” category. The Drug Policy Alliance points out that mayors in many major cities—including New York and Los Angeles, have actually removed the program from public schools.
Why is it so ineffective? It’s an abstinence-only program that assumes that the main reason a youngster would use drugs or alcohol is due to rampant peer pressure and drug dealers obsessively pushing their wares on unsuspecting youth. So, D.A.R.E. focuses its curriculum on ways of saying “no,” rather than offering scientific information regarding drug and alcohol usage, or holding an open dialogue on why some people choose to use or misuse drugs and alcohol. Instead of trying to present a “just say no” message in a “hip” way, drug and alcohol education might do well to revolve more around, well, education. A brief look at a government website (linked through the D.A.R.E. website) dissuading middle-schoolers from drinking alcohol reveals the shortcomings. www.coolspot.com points out that only 18 of 100 kids aged 12-17 drank alcohol in the past month. A creepy Japanime-esque character pops out and declares “Get it? If you choose not to drink, you’re not alone.”
It’s true. But by that same logic, if you choose to drink, you’re also not alone. If we want teenagers to eschew drugs and alcohol, perhaps we should focus less on pounding the work “no” into their psyches and more on how we can equip them with the knowledge to make their own decisions.