Education and Drugs
It’s worth checking out: “In Search of the Anti-Drug” by Elizabeth Armstrong of the Christian Science Monitor. This is probably the most honest mainstream article on the subject of drug education I’ve seen.
While I don’t agree with everything in the article, Armstrong understands the problems with the traditional “Just say no” approach to teaching children about drugs. She discusses the failure of everything from “Reefer Madness” to “Brain on Drugs” to D.A.R.E. And she points out:
But what happens when they don’t want to say no? What happens when the reason isn’t peer pressure or what they have or haven’t learned, but curiosity?…Just when many children are beginning to wonder what drugs feel like, they are learning little more than how to avoid them.
Kids also are smarter than most drug education programs credit, and become very skeptical when burned with misinformation, lies, or exaggerations.
“Teenage disbelief and suspicion of drug prevention programs is rooted in scare tactics,” [Meredith Maran] says.æ “When I was 16 and started reading stories about drugs I was taking, and compared my reality to that, I said ‘that’s that.’ To this day I don’t trust anything from those sources.”
While I am firmly in favor of legalization and ending the costly and failed prohibition policies, I recognize the importance of limiting drug use by children. There will, of course, always be curiosity and experimentation by young people. Having some drugs illegal does not change that (when I was a kid, I knew two boys who died from sniffing gasoline). So what are some good approaches?
- Legalization. It is now easier for most kids to get illegal drugs than alcohol. (When’s the last time you heard about a Bacardi or Philip Morris salesman pushing his drug in the schoolyard?) The fact that some drugs are illegal can also add to the allure. Legalize and regulate.
- Reality-based and science-based education. No more lies. It will take a while to get kids to believe anything you say again, but work at it. Discuss the difference between use and abuse (acknowledge that there is a distinction).
- Positive alternatives. Encourage and fund extra-curricular activities (sports, music, theatre, chess club, etc.). Job opportunities.
- Respect. Kids won’t trust the message if you’re making them pee in a cup or sending drug dogs through their classrooms.
Of course, this won’t be easy. The failed methods have too much momentum and investment. As Armstrong notes, even though its failures are well documented, “D.A.R.E. remains the program of choice in 80 percent of US public school systems – and the curriculum has yet to be replaced or improved upon.”