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D.A.R.E. -- HOW IT SHOULD WORK


February 16, 2000
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D.A.R.E. -- HOW IT SHOULD WORK

Having been raised a preacher’s kid; I’m very familiar with sermon anecdotes. I remember one particularly well because, in my mind, it illustrates the current D.A.R.E. curriculum and how today’s youth relate to it. One Sunday morning, a church pastor was admonishing his local flock when, all of a sudden, he noticed a man nodding out beside his wife. Irritated, the minister stopped in mid sentence and chided the man’s wife. “Sister,” said the minister, “You need to wake up your husband.” The woman, slightly annoyed at the minister’s interminable sermon replied, “Pastor, you wake him. You’re the one who put him to sleep.”What the simple anecdote lacks in humor it gains in poignancy, especially in relating to the current D.A.R.E. curriculum. In fiscal 2000, $17.8 billion is appropriated to combat the Nation’s drug war. A third of that money will be spent to continue prevention programs like D.A.R.E. Although the studies like the Research Triangle Institute conducted in 1994 show emphatically that the D.A.R.E. curriculum is failing, nevertheless, D.A.R.E. continues in classrooms worldwide, undaunted, notwithstanding its lullaby curriculum. And, anyone who has the courage to critique this “sacred cow,” reminding D.A.R.E. of its responsibility to awaken students to action against drug abuse, usually gets a good tongue lashing from those who defend its credibility.Parents rear their children to do right, warn them about drugs, send them to school with hopes of having their message re-enforced by D.A.R.E., but are sadly disappointed with the reality – D.A.R.E. is failing to awaken their children to the reality of drugs and violence. Every day in this Nation between $200 million to $300 million change hands in drug deals. In 1996, the government spent $15 billion fighting drugs while $49 billion was earned illegally in drug sales. A 1995 P.R.I.D.E. study showed that one in three high school seniors, one in four sophomores, and one in every six middle school eighth graders used marijuana. Notwithstanding these sobering statistics, House Bill 2050 sits in the U.S. Congress, which, if passed, will integrate D.A.R.E. into the elementary curriculum of private and public schools effective for the school year of 1999-2000.Although America is not getting much “bang for its buck” when it comes to student drug prevention classes, D.A.R.E. is still being touted as the program of choice to get kids to “just say no” to drugs. In August of 1999, a National Household Survey released from Washington D.C. showed a decrease in drug usage in the 12 through 17 age group. However, drug use among the 18-24 age group was flat. Even with a 13% decrease, the numbers are still twice what they were in 1992. D.A.R.E., in its present form, doesn’t work. However, in all fairness, D.A.R.E. could work, and work very well, if certain curriculum features were re-worked to accommodate today’s youth.As a school resource officer, I spent two years teaching D.A.R.E. to sixth graders. New to the field of drug education, and still smoldering with high expectations from a recently completed D.A.R.E. school, I entered Byrd Middle School in Tulsa, Oklahoma with high hopes of changing student attitudes and behavior towards drugs. I was soon frustrated. Reality set in for me after showing the D.A.R.E. introduction video that tried to convey a message of drug abuse, using animated characters and worn cliches. One student remarked to me afterwards, “Why are you making us watch cartoons?” (I told him to put his questions in the D.A.R.E. box and we’d talk about it.) For the next 17 weeks, I watched the students make the transformation from willing participants to disinterested and detached protesters. On several occasions, I would catch students trying to stealthily complete homework assignments form other classes instead of completing D.A.R.E. workbook assignments. Many times I wanted to change the weekly lesson plan and introduce something to stimulate the students, but it couldn’t be done because D.A.R.E. is regulated for conformity and its auditors check annually for compliance.What could D.A.R.E. change about its curriculum to keep it fluid, inspiring students to remain interested in its content? First, D.A.R.E. needs to realize that cartoons and cliches (eight ways to say no to drugs) are corny to a generation exposed to media violence, sexual escapades of a U.S. president, and the “in your face” life styles of MTV. Students of today want open discussions about drugs, without censor. They want life skills that relate to their world. They need social competencies that improve decision-making and will enhance communication among their peers, as well as their parents.Secondly, D.A.R.E. needs to change its teaching format. It needs to move from disseminating information in a classroom lecture where the instructor is the center source of information to entering the student in the learning process with the instructor as only a guide. For example, instead of lecturing about the consequences of drugs, show them the consequences by a “visual” and let them discuss, openly, their own conclusions. The visual might highlight the consequences of driving and drinking. The instructor might make arrangements with a wrecker company to bring a mangled, steel bent car to school grounds, still attached to the wrecker. The students would file out with pen and paper in hand, recording their thoughts of first impressions, and concluding the lesson afterwards by discussing the poor choices and deadly consequences of drinking and driving. The bottom line is that D.A.R.E. must become flexible and get beyond its “canned” approach simply for the sake of curriculum compliance.Moreover, D.A.R.E. needs to do a better job relating to today’s student. Aristotle, centuries ago, stated that three things were imperative in public speaking to persuade an audience. Logos, ethos, and pathos, he argued, were key ingredients to affect someone’s attitude towards a spoken subject. Of course D.A.R.E. employs good information in its lessons and delivers the “logos” credibly to its audience. Oftentimes, however, it falls short of an emotional impact of “age relating” because its method of delivery lacks the “ethos” and “pathos” of persuasion. How could this be done more effectively?For a D.A.R.E. instructor to relate his or her message to a young audience, he or she must become acquainted with the music and literature that moves today’s youth. What are today’s music artists saying in the words of their songs to students about drugs, guns and violence? Does it augment and confirm D.A.R.E.’s message or does it hinder and make light of it? What do local newspapers say about today’s youth and what’s affecting their lives? To know this information, to relate this information in truth to students, the D.A.R.E. instructor must be at liberty to play it, read it and discuss it in class. For example, an instructor might bring to class morning news clipping of an incident that happened the day before in the community. The story might be a family’s struggle with a drive-by shooting, a drug overdose of a child or the story of a family member who overcame drug addiction and worked hard to get his or her life back together.The instructor would read the story, play a portion of a popular song that relates to the destruction of drugs and violence, and then open the floor for discussion. Many times a student in the classroom will have close ties to the incident and talk openly about his or her emotional involvement. While this is occurring, several things are happening that, according to the experts, changes students’ attitudes and behavior towards drugs and creates a positive learning environment. One, information is being disseminated. Two, the instructor is establishing a rapport with the students by relating to the group. And lastly, the real life story is striking a nerve with the students, stirring an emotional response, and impacting their lives by what drugs, guns and violence really do –destroy real lives.Once again, D.A.R.E. could work well in affecting the lives of students, challenging them to resist drugs and live productive lives, but it must rework its curriculum to inspire instead of putting to sleep, relate to the real world instead of serving a “canned” program of cartoons and cliches. Experts report that there are currently 39 million youngsters under the age of 10 in this nation. That’s the highest number since the 1950s. In 2005, they enter their teenage years. Many of them are going to end their lives through drug abuse and violence. That’s the harsh reality. However, none of them has to choose self-destruction by drug abuse. There is an alternative. It’s called a life free of drugs and society is obligated to present the benefits to them in a way that creates a hunger and thirst for it. The nation doesn’t need more of the same failed tactics in educating youth about drug abuse. The U.S. must re-evaluate its goals in drug prevention programs like D.A.R.E. and do everything in its power to help D.A.R.E. “keep kids off drugs.”About the Author: Terry Dashner is an officer with the Tulsa, Oklahoma Police Department and can be reached through his e-mail at: dash0355@juno.com




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