one parent's perspective on d.a.r.e.
Written by Barry Mehler
Note: All names, except my own and my son’s have been changed. These essays are not meant to impugn the character of our DARE officer or the children who participate in the program. It should also be noted that all DARE courses are based on a rigid curriculum and that any officer who deviates from the program is removed. DARE classes are monitored to insure consistency.
Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, is the largest drug education
program in America today. In January 1995, my son and I participated in an
in depth investigation of the DARE program which included my son’s
participation through the entire course of the program while I acted as
observer and secretary. By the end of the seventeen weeks I was convinced
that not only is DARE ineffective as drug resistance education, (Ringwalt,
Ennett, and Holt) but it is irresponsible and frighteningly abusive.
In his introductory lecture officer Smith wore his gun and pepper gas. He explained that he would not wear them again, but on the first day, he does. "To satisfy their curiosity," he later explained to me. My son, Isaac, came home to tell me vivid sotries of what happens when a person is shot:
The first thing he talked about was his gun. He explained that when you get shot you would not be able to get up from the pain. After he explained about his gun he started to explain about his pepper spray and how it inflicts pain on a person’s eyes and how it can shoot thirty feet in a straight spray.
My son had obviously learned a great deal that day and the lesson clearly had an impact. He hardly ever tells me what he learned in school and usually when I ask he says, "Nothing special." But this day he learned the power of the police to seize, and kill, and gas. At a later class officer Smith told us of the time he saw two students - a boy and a girl - both wearing Michigan State sweatshirts. "You two make a cute pair," he said, and proceeded to handcuff them together. At the end of the lecture, when he was going to release them, he realized that he forgot to bring his key! He had to call the station and have another officer dispatched.
Our Constitution explicitly forbids officers of the law to search and seize any person without "probable cause" that some crime has been committed. In fact, the Fourth Amendment which guarantees usthis right speaks of:" The right of people to be secure in their persons… against unreasonable … seizures…" Handcuffs are not given to police officers as instructional aides. The authors of the Constitution understood that any person authorized by the state to carry a gun and other weapons had to be constrained, not by legislative act, but as a part of our most fundamental constitutional rights. We call it, "The Bill of Rights," and it is widely understood to be of the utmost importance. It was written to protect the citizen from the power of the government. That is what makes America special. Our Constitution is intended to protect the citizens from the government. The DARE program thus begins with an abuse of police authority and a violation of our most fundamental freedoms.
What particularly stuck me was my son’s description of how humiliating it would be to be excommunicated from the DARE program. DARE graduates have a special salute to police officers. When they hold up their thumb then the police know they are DARE graduates. But, if you are caught breaking the rules you are kicked out of the program and can not graduate. "He told us about a little girl that brought in a pack of cigarettes for her older sister and was kicked out of the DARE program and had to sit outside of the room while the DARE program was going on.
Few parents actually know what the DARE program is really like. Parents
are asked to sigh the "DARE Pledge Letter," invited to an evening with the
DARE officer, and finally to the culmination ceremony. Parents, if they
bother at all, usually only spend one evening with the DARE officer. The
highlight of the evening is when the officer shows the parents drug
paraphernalia. The officer even has marijuana incense, so that parents can
recognize the smell off marijuana. The officer explains to parents how
they can detect if their children are using drugs. What most parents do no
realize is that the children are also taught to recognize the signs of
drug use in the home and they are told that most children are introduced
to drugs by a family member.
"In order to be eligible to participate in the DARE culmination program and to earn a certificate" the student is expected to:
Good behavior is explained on the reverse side of the letter. Good behavior includes being "positive" and "respectful." The American Heritage Dictionary defines "positive" as "characterized by or displaying certainty, acceptance, or affirmation" and "admitting of no doubt." It also means "overconfident," "dogmatic," "arbitrarily determined or prescribed," and finally, "concerned with practical rather than theoretical matters." This is a good description of the DARE program. It is positive, practical and not concerned with theoretical matters.
The list continued:
When the letter reached me, it had already been signed by John Smith, Rosemary Clark, and my son, Isaac. I was frankly surprised that my son had signed the pledge. We had been studying Jewish law with regard to pledges. Religious Jews are not even allowed to swear the standard judicial oath, "I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." According to Jewish law one is obligated to tell the truth, but forbidden to swear an oath to do so. Furthermore, Judaism is an alcohol consuming religion and culture.
The Talmud Nazir states: "abstention from wine is considered sinful." (p. 2b3) My ritual cup for sanctifying the Sabbath holds nearly five ounces of wine. According to Jewish law it is preferable to drink the entire glass of wine immediately after the blessing - which is my practice. On Passover four such cups are required and they too are consumed the way a thirsty person might drink cold water on a hot day. The definition of a "good wine" is "a wine capable of intoxication" and on Passover the wine should be drunk while leaning back on a billow to one side. If one forgets to lean, the rabbis suggest drinking a second cup without a blessing - just to make sure you have properly fulfilled your obligation. What’s another cup of wine or two? Jewish law also mandates that children beginning at age five should drink the four cups on Passover, although they are only required to drink a half-ounce per cup. Isaac will be required to drink the full four cups after age thirteen.
In Michigan no one under the age of 21 can consume alcohol and it is illegal for an adult to give a child alcohol. Our "Freedom of Religion" had been guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, which required states to show "compelling cause" in the enforcement of any law which violated our First Amendment right to freedom of religion. However, in 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that two American Indians could not be exempted from an Oregon law that makes it a crime to possess or use peyote, even though they used it only for sacramental purposes. Justice Anton Scalia wrote: "We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the state is free to regulate" (JTA). Thus was created what many legal experts call the "drugs" exception to the Bill of Rights. The ruling so upset mainstream church groups that a massive campaign led to passage of the "Freedom of Religions Restoration Act," which requires the State to show "compelling cause" for the enforcement of drug laws which conflict with religious custom. None of this was ever discussed during the DARE program.
I asked Isaac how he could sign a letter that pledged him to something he knew he could not fulfill. His answer was simple: "They told me to sign, so I signed."
"Isaac," I said, "you should never have signed this. This is a false vow. You cannot honor this agreement and you know it. You must not let anyone tell you what to sign - not even a teacher or a policeman." I was stunned when he began to cry. It was only then that I realized how difficult it would be for a child to stand up to such pressure. On one side of him stood officer Smith with gun, handcuffs, and pepper gas. On the other stood his teacher, Rosemary Clark.
The promise to "keep your body free from drugs" includes alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, thus creating a problem for Jews, Native Americans, and Rastafarians. But even more generally, the DARE program does not understand the fundamental nature of religious and cultural use versus dangerous and self-destructive abuse. They define abuse as "the wrong use of something." For example, officer Smith explained, "If someone drank a whole bottle of cough medicine that would be abuse." But for marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol, there is no correct use. DARE does not recognize that many of the world’s great religions use drugs to induce a change of emotional state and consciousness. In many religious, intoxication is a form of sanctification which brings the human to a higher spritual level. None of this is ever discussed in DARE.
I understand the terrible toll that drug abuse takes in our society. Millions of children are forced to take drugs like ritalin and dextroamphetamine. In their book, The War Against Children, Peter and Ginger Ross Breggin describe in detail the campaign to use psychoactive drugs to control children (Breggin and Breggin). I am also well aware that millions more of our children are abusing every drug they can get their hands on - from cough medicine to alcohol and cigarettes. I am against the abuse of drugs, but some cultures prevent drug abuse by teaching how to properly use intoxicants.
I decided I would attend the program and do an evaluation. I am an associate professor of history with a specialty in the history of academic prejudice. I regularly review educational materials, programs, and policies. At the time, I took on this work, I was already working with Congresswoman Cardiss Collins on an evaluation of the NCAA for The McIntosh Commission. Neither the Superintendent of Schools or the principal had any objections to my attending the classes and doing an evaluation. However, when I asked officer Smith for a copy of his training manual he hesitated, recalling some problem they once had he said he would need to check with the state office in Lansing. I asked him what the problem was and he recalled that it had something to do with criticizing the program! They used to have the kids stand up, stretch and take a deep breath. So some group of parents claimed they were teaching "meditation."
I reminded officer Smith that I was an associate professor of Humanities and that I was evaluating the program at the behest of the Superintendent of Schools. He assured me there would be no problem, but he would have to call the Lansing office.
After checking with the Superintendent of Schools to verify my claim that I was doing this evaluation with his approval, Smith consulted Lansing. When I arrived home there was a message on my phone machine from officer Smith. "The reason the manuals cannot be let out is because it is copyrighted by DARE America." This answer seemed very odd to me. Copyrighted materials are lent out all the time. I called the State office and made it clear that I worked with Congress and the State Board of Education and that I wanted a copy of the manual. It was all a misunderstanding, I was told, of course, I could have a copy of the manual.
The Officer’s Guide to D.A.R.E arrived some time later. It was copyrighted by the Los Angeles Unified School District, but there was no ISBN number. This seemed strange to me, so I sent an Internet request to the Library of Congress. "I was unable to find a citation of listing of the DARE manual in the Library of Congress files," was the reply. So I wrote to James P. Danky, librarian for The State Historical Society of Wisconsin; he replied, "Not only can I not find any library that owns a copy of this manual, DARE is virtually invisible - bibliographically speaking." Sanford Berman, a highly regarded authority on library ethics wrote that a search of major databases "found no entries whatever." Whether this ‘bibliographic invisibility is accidental or deliberate, I can’t say. Whatever the actual cause or motive, the result is deplorable. Even if unintentional, this situation strongly suggests undue secrecy and frustrates - indeed, impedes - the public’s Right to Know" (Berman). I could not find anything worth all the secrecy, although it would be interesting to see the earlier manuals.
I asked my son if he wished to join me in the investigation or be excused. Isaac courageously volunteered to stay through the sixteen weeks so that he and I could explore the program together. After each class we would discuss what we had learned and he would share his views. It was understood between us from the beginning that he could not graduate, would not return the pledge letter, would not fulfill any of the major requirements. His experience would be that of the resistor. DARE officers are very positive and there is little room for negativity in the DARE program. Alcohol is bad. Children should never drink alcohol. Tobacco is not a blessing to be used in sacred ceremonies dating back to the origins of humanity in the America’s. Tobacco is bad and those who smoke it smell bad.
The children are supposedly taught to resist "peer pressure." Actually they are subjected to extreme forms of peer pressure orchestrated by the police, backed by the school, and enforced by the children with utter brutality. Isaac was protected by my presence, of course, and throughout he was treated with respect. Other children are no so lucky.
To learn to resist this peer pressure the children do a lot of role playing. On one occasion, Isaac was called up. Smith asked, "What did you do this weekend?" On Friday night we sanctified the Sabbath with wine, on Saturday afternoon we sanctified the afternoon meal with yet more wine, and on Saturday night we concluded the Sabbath with yet another cup of wine.
"I slept," Isaac answered.
Smith, replied, "Well, I went bungie jumping (pause) only I forgot the bungie cord," and rubbed his head. "Hey look what I got, it’s a beer. Do you want to share some with me?"
Isaac dutifully answered, "No thanks."
"Oh, come-on, everybody does it," Smith persisted.
Isaac, once again, answered, "No thanks," and upon a signal, the class gave Isaac a big round of applause.
It became a joke around the Sabbath table. Isaac has never been forced to drink wine. I simply ask him if he would like some and what kind. He generally drinks the sweetened Mogen David Concord Grape, but there are times he doesn’t feel like having wine and says no. Until he is thirteen, he is under no real obligation to share in the "Kiddush" (the sanctification). But these days, I tease, "Come on, all the kids are doing it." It does no good, Isaac has learned to resist peer pressure even when it comes from his father.
It’s not Isaac, however, that I am worried about. It is the police and their abuse of authority; positive attitude towards everything they do; and the righteous dogmatism they are teaching. I’m just not positive it’s the right program for our schools. But then again, I am not one of the "millions of DARE graduates around the world." I am one of the millions of people around the world who are frightened by the rise of authoritarianism and bigotry.
Berman to Mehler (11 April 1995). Berman is Author of numerous books on library science. His Prejudice and Antipathethies: A Tract on the LC Subject Heads Concerning People (McFarland, 1994) won the Carey McWilliams Award. See also, Worth Noting : Editorials, Letters, Essays (McFarland, nd).
Breggin, Peter R. & Breggin, Ginger Ross, The War Against Children: How the Drugs, Programs, Theories and Psychiatric Establishment Are Threatening America’s Children with a Medical "Cure" for Violence (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994).
Ringwalt, Christopher, Ennett, Susan T., & Holt, Kathleen D., "An Outcome Evaluation of Project DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education)" Health Education Research 6 no. 3 1991) pp. 327-337. The research was carried out by the Center for Research and Policy Analysis, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, along with School and Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 27599. See also, Dennis Cauchon, "Studies find drug program not effective." USA Today (10/11/93) p.1.
"Girl’s tip brings arrest of parents," Washington Times (1/17/94).
JTA, "Jews Rip High Court’s Decision on Peyote," DJN (4/27/90).
USC 1232h, 34 CRF 98.