Thursday, September 09, 2004

R.I.P., D.A.R.E.

The local daily reported last week that only two grade schools in Douglas County are still teaching Drug Abuse Resistance Education, the school-based substance abuse prevention program known as D.A.R.E. It used to be all over, with an estimated penetration in Nebraska grade schools of close to 80 percent in the 1980s and ‘90s.

What happened? People found out that D.A.R.E. didn’t help, and in fact, for kids like most of those in Nebraska, it actually hurt.

Nationwide, D.A.R.E. was costing taxpayers and private donors upwards of $1 billion a year, according to reporting by the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch posted on www.mpp.org/USA/news_1178.html Close to half of the money came from U.S. Department of Education funding through Safe and Drug-Free Schools grants. Translation: tax dollars. At schools across Nebraska, there were D.A.R.E. classes and rallies, ribbons tied on trees outside school, T-shirts, bumper stickers, and lots of loyalty and excitement.

But accountability for D.A.R.E.’s spending and evidence for its effectiveness were slim to none.

Our kids were at Swanson School in District 66, and I remember being pretty disgusted by the workbook, then doing just a little research to turn up a lot of this stuff. I remember bringing a page of damaging quotes about D.A.R.E. from big-time sources to a meeting for D.A.R.E. parents at our school. Instead of thanking me for pointing out the weaknesses of the program, I got a bunch of dirty looks and was basically told to sit down and shut up.

But here’s a sampling of what I tried to tell them:

-- A study of 10,000 kids showed D.A.R.E. had a ‘’nonexistent effect’’ on drug and alcohol prevention (Research Triangle Institute, Durham, N.C., commissioned by the U.S. Justice Department, reported in USA Today, Oct. 11, 1993).

-- Surveys of students showed they liked to spend time in drug ed classes to avoid real academic challenges; drug ed acts ‘’more as a guide than a deterrent,’’ and after programs like D.A.R.E., there is a ‘’quicker and wider use of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis’’’ (Richard H. Blum, Stanford University, Drug Education: Results and Recommendations, Lexington Books, 1976).

-- Children who had D.A.R.E. experimented with marijuana one year earlier than non-D.A.R.E. children, and there was increased use of marijuana overall after D.A.R.E. in the student population (Clayton et. al., Journal of Health Communication, 3 (4) 1991.

If I remember right, the late Liz Karnes of Omaha, longtime board member of District 66, served on the national board that dispensed grants to districts like ours. That’s probably why no one would look at the facts I presented in District 66 about how D.A.R.E. was being proven, over and over, to be counter-productive in keeping kids off drugs and booze. It would have embarrassed Ms. Karnes a great deal. I liked her and I never wanted that; I just didn’t want kids I knew to be defenseless about drugs and alcohol.,

So millions of dollars went down the drain and a much higher percentage of kids were ‘’using’’ than if we had never allowed an outside drug-ed program in the first place. All you have to do is tell kids that drugs and booze are illegal and wrong. D.A.R.E. did just about everything but.

I showed my school’s staff lots of evidence from the U.S. Justice Department, Stanford University, the University of Kentucky, and other sources. It showed that because D.A.R.E. was values-neutral and refrained from telling kids that drugs and booze were BAD for them and WRONG to do, D.A.R.E. wound up having either a neutral effect ,or actually increased drug and alcohol abuse among those kids with access to money, such as in District 66.

I think the problem was that the parents thought D.A.R.E. was ‘’moralizing’’ to the kids that drinking and drugging were wrong, but D.A.R.E. thought that was the parents’ job -- which of course, it is. But the D.A.R.E. crowd was so excited about getting all those millions of dollars, they kind of forgot to tell the parents that D.A.R.E. would get the money, but the parents still had the basic responsibility to do the basic job of drug prevention.


Talk about getting wasted. Not just millions of precious education dollars in Nebraska . . . but look at the stats on the last generation of Nebraskans who had D.A.R.E. in our public schools. Look how much more drinking and drugging they do than the generations that came before.

At least there’s some humor in all this. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you a few ‘’drinking stories’’ about D.A.R.E. -- and I dare you not to smile.

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