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R. Jones

"Ms. Jones is a columnist and mother of two. Her main focus is on political commentary that 'bucks the trend of touchy-feely emotionalism' and blinkered liberal thinking."

    I DARE You to Think
    by R. Jones

    February 1, 2003

    It seemed like such a good idea. Teach kids to be aware of what drugs are. Teach them about the consequences. Teach them that they're above all that crap. Teach them to say "no." So when the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program was offered to each of my kids, I applauded. It started by having them bring home contracts that they signed, and we, the parents signed, all agreeing that we wouldn't use drugs and they wouldn't use drugs and we'd all watch out how not to use drugs. They attended 17 week series of classes, where they colored pictures and listened to a D.A.R.E. officer tell them about drugs and how to resist drugs.

    If you didn't know better, you would, as I did, assume that Officer DARE was telling them to say "no" to drugs. But that isn't what really happens in the program. What happens is that our 4th and 5th grade children are shown what drugs are, and then taught to say "maybe."

    A D.A.R.E. officer had this comment to make: "I tell kids they can smoke dope if they want to, as long as they consider the consequences." (Governing, September 1992, page 6.)

    The D.A.R.E. philosophy is based on an outdated teaching methodology known as "values clarification". Values clarification was first introduced in education in the seventies. From a discussion on the topic:

    "'Values clarification' is not an attempt to teach students 'right' and 'wrong' values. Rather, it is an approach designed to help students prize and act upon their own freely chosen values. Thus, values clarification is concerned with the process by which students arrive at their values, rather than the content of those values." (Leland and Mary How, Personalizing Education, 1975)

    They have got to be kidding me. If you ask a typical 5th grader about consequences, and right and wrong, the answer you'll most likely get is that it's sometimes okay to do something people think is bad if it doesn't really hurt anyone else. A 5th grader can be persuaded to do something harmful to self, if the harmful activity is made enticing enough. Further, as suggested in this educational psychology text concerning values clarification:

    "There is no reason to assume ... that students will automatically make sound choices when they engage in values clarification sessions. It is quite possible that when students are encouraged to develop clear and consistent values, they will choose those that focus on material possessions, power, self-indulgence, and the like." (Robert F. Biehler and Jack Snowman, Psychology Applied to Teaching, Seventh Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston (1993).)

    There's more. In a book titled "Theories of Development", W.C. Crain describes research on moral development conducted by Lawrence Kholberg. An excerpt from that text may be found among the faculty pages on the website for the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (http://www.plts.edu). The text describes earlier research that Kohlberg expanded upon:

    "As we have seen, younger children regard rules as fixed and absolute. They believe that rules are handed down by adults or by God and that one cannot change them. The older child's view is more relativistic. He or she understands that it is permissible to change rules if everyone agrees. Rules are not sacred and absolute but are devices which humans use to get along cooperatively.

    "At approximately the same time--10 or 11 years--children's moral thinking undergoes other shifts. In particular, younger children base their moral judgments more on consequences, whereas older children base their judgments on intentions." (W.C. Crain. (1985). Theories of Development. Prentice-Hall. pp. 118-136.)

    Kohlberg took this even further, uncovering six stages of moral development that progresses over shorter intervals in a child's maturing process. From the same text:

    "At stage 1 children think of what is right as that which authority says is right. Doing the right thing is obeying authority and avoiding punishment. At stage 2, children are no longer so impressed by any single authority; they see that there are different sides to any issue. Since everything is relative, one is free to pursue one's own interests, although it is often useful to make deals and exchange favors with others.

    "At stages 3 and 4, young people think as members of the conventional society with its values, norms, and expectations. At stage 3, they emphasize being a good person, which basically means having helpful motives toward people close to one At stage 4, the concern shifts toward obeying laws to maintain society as a whole.

    "At stages 5 and 6 people are less concerned with maintaining society for it own sake, and more concerned with the principles and values that make for a good society. At stage 5 they emphasize basic rights and the democratic processes that give everyone a say, and at stage 6 they define the principles by which agreement will be most just."

    Children in the 11-12 age range fall into stage 2, maybe burgeoning into stage 3 if they are especially mature. Again quoting from the text:

    "Respondents at stage 2 are still said to reason at the preconventional level because they speak as isolated individuals rather than as members of society. They see individuals exchanging favors, but there is still no identification with the values of the family or community."

    And it is this group of people whose primary moral compass involves individualism and exchange that we are deliberately teaching to go ahead and smoke dope if they want, but just be aware of the consequences. They are told that the consequences are illness, addiction, and possible death. They are not told of the impact their choice has on their friends, their family, and on society. If they can be convinced -- and it's easy to sway kids using the "coolness" factor and clever advertising -- that illness, addiction, and death aren't likely, then their values are easily subverted.

    Perhaps this is why there are so many critics of the program, and studies that strongly suggest that it isn't as successful as the D.A.R.E. organization claims.

    One evaluation of the D.A.R.E. program, using studies conducted yearly from 1989 to present, shows mixed results.

    "The majority of these recent studies attempt to measure the longer-term effects of DARE (one or more years after the completion of the DARE curriculum). The current consensus is that DARE does significantly and positively affect student attitudes toward alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATOD), but the findings generally indicate that exposure to DARE does not significantly reduce the actual use of these drugs.

    "In general, the better controlled studies tend to show the least effect of DARE. In addition, follow-up studies, which track students for several years following DARE exposure, tend to show little or no lasting effects of DARE." (http:://paranoia.lycaeum.org/war.on.drugs/action/dare.evaluations)

    The D.A.R.E. program is lucrative, though, for its parent company. D.A.R.E. America, the California corporation which controls the curriculum and merchandising gets its revenue from taxes, private donations, merchandise sales and royalties. It is controlled by a 25-person board of directors. The executive director is paid several hundred thousand dollars a year, and the program itself consumes more than two million dollars.

    On the plus side, D.A.R.E. seems to be aware of its hazy success, and D.A.R.E. officers are genuinely concerned about trying to stem the tide of drug use and abuse by starting 'em young.

    "'From my own experience, I never cared for D.A.R.E., but now that they are changing the way they implement it, I might be interested in looking at their curriculum again,' said community services Officer Chris Almonrode of the Roanoke Police Department." (from D.A.R.E., http://www.dare.com, reprinted from the Dallas Morning News, "A New D.A.R.E. Dawning", Michael Lindenberger)

    And so the D.A.R.E. program is revamping, adding curricula aimed at the older students -- middle school and high school inclusive. In view of Kohlberg's moral development evaluations, they are finally targeting young people who are in the correct moral frame of mind.

    May genuine, unequivocal success be their watch word.

    © 2002 Tocqevillian Magazine