In short, our techniques are not working:
"Levels of drug use did not differ as a function of whether students participated in D.A.R.E. Every additional 36 hours of cumulative drug education…were associated with significantly more negative attitudes towards police…more positive attitudes towards drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes, and more delinquency."
Source: D.P. Rosenbaum and G.S. Hanson, Assessing the Effects of School-Based Drug Education: A Six Year Multi-Level Analysis of Project D.A.R.E., Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 35:4, pp 381-412, 1998.; Joel Brown, Youth, Drugs, and Resilience Education, Journal of Drug Education Center for Educational Research & Development, Berkeley, CA. Pp. 91.
One more quote about drug education:
"Some D.A.R.E.-by-community interactions were observed: Urban and rural students showed some benefits, whereas suburban students experienced small but significant increases in drug use after participation in D.A.R.E."
Source: D.P. Rosenbaum and G.S. Hanson, Assessing the Effects of School-Based Drug Education: A Six Year Multi-Level Analysis of Project D.A.R.E., Sage Journals Online, Abstract, Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Vol. 35, No. 4, 381-412 (1998), DOI: 10.1177/0022427898035004002.
I have three not unique to me hypotheses about why this is (and my ideas are formed from reading these articles, research and findings, so please know that those are the basis for my thoughts here):
1. Mixed messages about group think
2. One size does not fit all
3. The irony in the negative
Allow me to explain.
1. Mixed messages about group think
This idea clicked in my mind when bright commenter Jenny wryly noted the irony in a school employing peer pressure and intimidation to teach kids to say no to drugs, which most kids try due to peer pressure and intimidation.
As I sat and reflected, my mind expanded beyond the single issue of drug education. In point of fact, schools generally promote an across-the-board social construct of group think.
This isn't just ironic, it's deeply, deeply disturbing.
Children are taught and trained not to just move and act en masse, but are also taught to think and respond en masse, too.
Lessons, and approaches to information, are taught as if there was a single idea that is right, with no gray area around it.
I recognize the need for standards, something against which to grade, but am frustrated by the limitations this places on critical and original thought.
My daughter recently brought home a check minus paper (the equivalent of an F, perhaps?). She was to have grouped items. Apparently she either spaced out or disagreed with the instructions because her items were not grouped according to plan. I missed this originally, because when I looked at the items, I saw several possible groupings. Patience's chosen grouping made sense to me. The items were:
Sorting possibilities: cylindrical items and round items, fruits and vegetables, mild flavor and strong flavor, how and where they grow (tree, vine or ground) and so on.
The instructions called for items to be sorted into fruit and vegetable categories. Patience sorted by how they grew.
She is what you might call an out of the box thinker. This? I understand.
Instead of the purpose of the exercise being to teach children to think of as many possible permutations of sorting and grouping as possible---an excellent and useful exercise, in my opinion, that would teach them far more than one lesson, such as learning more about the objects, thinking of them in different ways, and so forth---the object was instead to teach children how to follow instructions---a necessary evil, but not terribly educational.
This? I do not understand.
Then again, I am not a teacher.
So back to the main point: group think.
Children learn by example, and we demonstrate in our schools (and likely also frequently in our parenting) an excellent model of peer pressure and intimidation. Children are to go along with what the adults say, do as they are told, or else. Although I've oversimplified the discipline model, there is a valid point here.
But schools. Oh schools. In my limited experience (personal as a student and short time as a parent) I find a disturbing encouragement for grouping, aka peer pressure.
Two things motivated Patience to keep the red ribbon bracelet on:
1. Intimidation---she was desperately anxious about getting into trouble with her substitute teacher if she removed her bracelet. But, more than that...
2. Peer pressure---she was desperately anxious to not let down her classmates. The class with best participation in Red Ribbon week got an extra half hour of recess as a reward. (Yes, this infuriates me on multiple levels.)
The children were all forced to go along with each other (peer pressure) and the programs, or else (intimidation).
And we wonder why this is their default technique.
We teach it to them using the "do as I say but not as I do" method. We tell them to not give in to peer pressure and intimidation. We tell them to be themselves and think for themselves. And then, we use the exact opposite technique to teach them a social lesson. That leads me to my second hypothesis about why our social awareness education programs (aka brainwashing) techniques are not as successful as we'd like: children are actually individuals who respond to different methods of information delivery.
2. One size does not fit all
If you noticed, that six year drug study mentioned a positive benefit for urban and rural students, but a negative effect for suburban students. Social education programs are customizable, but as I compared programs across school districts within my state, I noticed that in general, most schools appeared to follow the set template for the program. That means regardless of geography, socioeconomics, culture, and so forth, students are in general getting more or less the exact same program.
That doesn't even account for individualism within that school.
This is why I think (a) parents need to be involved, notified or consulted, but more importantly, (b) these programs ought to be extracurricular.
We're so worried about not leaving any child behind, but as best I can tell, education is frequently interrupted with extracurricular activities.
[And DO NOT even get me STARTED about the television programs and movies (all entertainment) shown in the classroom. With a distressing amount of frequency.]
I am not on board with the social awareness programs because I don't agree with their method of delivery. However, the school seems to think that by virtue of having my child enrolled in their school, I tacitly approve of and agree to whatever they wish to do with my child while she is in the school.
As it so happens, I do not. I prefer to be informed, and in many cases, believe the school needs to seek more parental agreement and approval for extracurricular programs being held within the curriculum.
I don't agree with the school day beginning with what amounts to three Christian rituals, despite my own Christianity. Moreover, two of the rituals are legally binding social contracts sworn under God. These would be, in point of fact, the Moment of Silence, the State Pledge and the Pledge of Allegiance. At a certain point students are old enough to begin learning about the social contract we must make with our government and country as citizens. At some point, our children will be old enough to undertake the responsibility inherent in a social contract with a legal entity. At that point, swearing a pledge of allegiance is reasonable. Drumming it into a five year old's head by repetition is simply assimilation. It's not true loyalty. It is my humble opinion that a child's first loyalty ought to be to family, and vice versa. Said family should teach the child about responsibility and place in society. This should remain the dynamic, until the child is old enough to take on his or her place in society, including all of the responsibility inherent in that.
(Have you ever noticed how meaningful certain things become in adulthood? Or how much more meaningful certain things are when you don't adopt them until adulthood? Of course this is not exact or 100% but I've noticed that when I agree to, accept or adopt something in a thoughtful, deliberate, comprehending way, it has much, much more meaning. I'd like to promote that with my children, a certain thoughtful and deliberate approach.)
We don't think kids are old enough to drive until sixteen, die in a war until 18 or drink alcohol until 21...so why is a child just out of toddlerhood old enough to swear an oath of fealty?
That is such a big responsibility. At least wait until the kid is old enough to marry without parental consent. Isn't that a pretty close equivalent? (An interesting read about teaching kids about the pledge: The Pledge and the Contract, from Active Citizenship, Empowering America’s Youth, by John Minkler.)
I don't agree with focusing kids on abstinence by teaching them to say no to sex, drugs and rock and roll. That leads me to my third hypothesis: just say no simply piques rebellion and curiosity.
3. The irony in the negative
I'm sure you've heard the adage about accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative, "Don't say 'don't look down' or you'll just look down, say 'keep looking up' instead."
Social scientists have proved time and again that, especially with children, the negative is discarded and the messages following the negative become the unintended focus. This means whatever follows a no or don't? Gets reversed in your kid's mind.
"Don't drop the ball!" Thud.
"Don't have sex!" Have sex.
"Don't do drugs." Do drugs.
The Boomerang effect I mentioned is mentioned in several articles and studies I read (most cited in my post). It's the increase in drug use for kids who are targeted by anti-drug messages. Drug education and awareness is meant to promote a no response in kids with regard to illegal mind-altering substances. Instead, it can provoke curiosity that could lead to experimentation that might lead to addiction.
We are teaching our kids about drug-induced highs and how to get them. Doesn't it make sense that curious kids who aren't known per se for maturity and wisdom, good judgment, might experiment?
In the Brain, Child article by Juliette Guilbert, she shares a conversation she had with a friend who was a former heroin addict. The friend actually became interested in heroin after a school report she did as part of an anti-drug program, "I do think I got a little interested in it," she says. "I found out how it made you feel, and that sounded appealing. Unlike something like LSD, which sounded horrible."
The truth is education can be prevention, but it can also lead to an unhealthy awareness. I attribute this to the peer pressure and punitive intimidating approach, the one size fits all, and the accentuation of the negative. I also attribute it to misleading kids (read: betrayal, loss of trust) because we have to oversimplify it to reach the too-young audience.
Right now, I don't think my five year old is ready to begin learning about drugs any more than I believe she is ready to swear her allegiance or sign any binding legal contracts.
You're swatting at me in your mind. I hear you.
You're thinking, "It's never too early to begin!" And you might be right, for you, or based on your experience. I actually think that idea is more of a 'drummed into your head' thought. Did you think it yourself, or are you repeating what you've heard countless times?
I disagree that it's never too early to begin, and evidence backs up my point of view.
Saying something before you can comprehend it makes it meaningless, as does saying something over and over. Did you ever sit in elementary school and ponder what you were actually agreeing to when you said the Pledge of Allegiance? In the same way, "just say no to drugs" can become a meaningless bit of pratter.
I've heard you and countless others say, "Oh we just ignore it, go about our business, it's no big deal to us, my kids don't even pay attention, it has no effect, we just gloss over it..."
In essence, you are saying it's meaningless. You are expecting that it has no effect (which I don't quite believe) and that when your kids are ready, it will kick in and have the intended effect.
I don't think it's that benign.
Consider this from Juliette Guilbert's Brain, Child article:
And in 2005, a five-year, $42.7 million, government-funded study by the University of Pennsylvania and Westat, Inc., a Rockville, Maryland, research corporation, concluded that the Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign was totally ineffectual at preventing drug use by teens.
The Westat study, which surveyed between 2,000 and 4,000 nine- to eighteen-year-olds each year for four years, found that exposure to the ads led to higher rates of marijuana initiation among non-users, a result known as the "boomerang effect." While self-reporting has obvious limitations for pinpointing the number of kids using drugs at a given time (kids reported their attitudes and drug use on in-home touch-screen surveys; they can easily lie) it is considered more reliable as a measure of change in use over time, because if they are lying, they are likely to do so with some consistency on each year's survey, unless there's a major cultural shift.
Robert Orwin, Westat's principal investigator on the study, says that he and his colleagues were surprised to find that the Media Campaign produced a boomerang effect, but they "couldn't make it go away." He offered a theory on why it might be so. "The message was that drugs are bad for you; don't do drugs," he says. "The meta-message was that a government agency is spending all this money and all this effort to tell me how bad drugs are, so everybody must be using drugs."
A study in 2002 found...that Philip Morris's "Think: Don't Smoke" ads increased the likelihood that kids would take up smoking. Clearly, not all "un-selling" is created equal.
In my opinion, it's important to find the right approach, and target kids in the right way at the right age. Kindergarten, for the record (in case I haven't said it enough) is not it.
Right now, we aren't there, and starting younger and throwing more money at it isn't working:
By the government's own standards, are we winning the war on drugs?
No. In 2000, federal and state governments will spend more than $40 billion fighting the drug war - a dramatic increase since 1980, when federal spending was roughly $1 billion and state spending just a few times that. Yet, despite the ballooning costs of the drug war, illicit drugs are cheaper and purer than they were two decades ago, and continue to be readily available. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly 57% of the population report that marijuana is fairly or very easy to obtain. In 2000, 47% of eighth graders and 88.5% of senior high school students say marijuana is easy to obtain. Additionally, approximately 24% of eighth graders and nearly 48% of seniors report powdered cocaine is easy to get.
Source: SAMHSA, 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Washington, D.C. 2001. See table G.75; SAMHSA, Monitoring the Future: Overview of Key Findings 2000, Washington, D.C. 2001. See table 8.
In fact, there is an effect, and it's not what we want. Therefore, in my opinion, we need to stop, pause, reflect, regroup and come up with a new, more positive, better targeted message.
In point of alleged fact, it appears doing nothing is better, in this case, than just doing what we are doing.
Let's empower parents, and through them empower kids to say yes to something else, and do more ignoring of drugs and less focusing on them, and what NOT to do.
After all, despite the name of their show, even Stacy and Clinton realize the most important lesson is teaching clients what TO wear.
Note: Some hope for a better message: Parents: The Anti Drug. I really do believe it is up to parents. You know yourself, your history, your genetics, and your child. Although your child isn't you, you can take a wild guess that if addiction runs in your family, your child has a higher risk of becoming addicted to a substance. Also, low esteem or disorders that affect esteem and mood (such as depression) increase the risk of self-medicating with drugs. You, the parent, can best assess the risk and correct approach. Of course, remaining an in touch parent is best, too. Nothing is 100%. Nothing. Nothing is perfect and there are no guarantees. But again in my opinion, the parent is the most effective key to a good chance of preventing a child from becoming unhealthily involved with drugs and alcohol. And my school, somehow, didn't involve me at all, even after I specifically requested it.
Coming soon...what about the abstinence message for sex? Take a WAG what my thoughts are about that, and teaching that in the schools...
TOMORROW: Hump Day Hmm is the Blog Blast for Peace. Join in! Write your post, link to me here, send the link to me at j pippert at g mail dot com and I'll add all our participants in (plus link love, twice).
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