section six

what's wrong with D.A.R.E.?


[Next] [Prev]

Over the last several years, ever-louder questions and criticisms about the merits and wisdom of D.A.R.E. have emerged. This section attempts to share those that have come to the attention of authors of this web page.

  1. Efficacy. Despite its huge popularity, and hundreds of millions in tax revenue and private contributions, no evidence exists that D.A.R.E. keeps kids off drugs. A large, developing body of studies documenting this conclusion is referenced in the accompanying list of references and other resources. The bottom line is that at best, in the words of the Justice Department-sponsored study by the Research Triangle Institute (338k), D.A.R.E. has a "limited to esentially nonexistent effect on drug use."

    The U.S. General Accounting Office reported, "There is little evidence so far that [D.A.R.E. and other "resistance training" programs] have reduced the use of drugs by adolescents" (U.S. GAO/GGD-93-82, "Confronting the Drug Problem," page 25).

    D.A.R.E.'s official response to this growing body of research is disdain for science. "Scientists tell you that bumblebees can't fly, but we know better," declared D.A.R.E. Executive Director Glenn Levant upon release of the government-sponsored report that D.A.R.E. doesn't work (USA Today, October 11, 1994). The local D.A.R.E. officers we talked to also claim that the anecdotal evidence is convincing that D.A.R.E. is working extremely well, citing the warm reception they have received by schools and parents. "Besides," they often add, "even if we are reaching only one kid, it's worth all the effort."

    (It is not clear why their standard of success is so low. We would hardly declare a math curriculum successful if only one kid learned to add.)

    In an editorial October 15, 1993, The Chapel Hill (North Carolina) Herald observed, "If D.A.R.E. isn't doing the job it's supposed to, we owe it to fifth- and sixth-graders to find out why."

    Curiously, the web site of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the nation's preeminent anti-drug abuse agency, doesn't even mention D.A.R.E.

  2. Content. The content of the D.A.R.E. curriculum is raising a variety of concerns about what D.A.R.E. is actually teaching our children. These concerns include:

    • D.A.R.E.'s message to children is muddled and confusing. It doesn't tell kids that they must not use drugs. Instead, D.A.R.E. tells them that they have the "right to say no," implying that they have the "right to say yes." Despite the term in its name, D.A.R.E. doesn't teach kids what "drug abuse" actually is, or how it can be identified.
    • D.A.R.E. is not respectful of parents and other civilian adults. The D.A.R.E. video, called "The Land of Decisions and Choices," shown to students as part of Lesson 2, portrays all adults as drunks or other drug abusers, or senile...other than the D.A.R.E. officer. Parents find this film a bizarre, brazenly exaggerated depiction of drug use. Although each child is given a D.A.R.E. "workbook," students are encouraged to leave them at school and not take them home. Some parents worry that the heavy emphasis on "resistance skills" subverts their own authority with their children.
    • It is a well established fact that children's greatest drug risk is with alcohol and tobacco, yet D.A.R.E. is soft on those drugs, hammering almost exclusively on illicit drugs. As a condition of "participation" in D.A.R.E., children are expected to abstain from all drugs. D.A.R.E. officers themselves are not required to meet that standard.
    • D.A.R.E. is based on unproven, and likely false, educational hypotheses, the most notorious one of which is that using drugs is a sympton of low self esteem, or of high stress. Thus casual, responsible use of any drug (alcohol, caffeine, tobacco) by parents or anyone else is to be seen as pathological, i.e., "abuse." From this dubious premise, it is alleged that self-esteem can be "built" by reciting state-sponsored catechisms. These catechisms consist of claims of "rights" which are said to have been conferred on fifth grade D.A.R.E. students. They include the "right to be happy" and the "right to be respected."

    Many parents take issue with the emphasis on "self-esteem" in schools these days, and the notion that it can be readily "taught." Lillian Katz, Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois, put it this way: "Self-esteem and self-confidence don't come from being told you are great. You get them by facing challenges and mastering them through hard work and persistence." (Readers Digest, April 1994, "Are We Demanding Enough of Our Kids?)

    To determine if students are experiencing a low, medium or high level of stress, students are given a test, in Lesson 8, called "My Stress Level." Among the causes of "high stress" are said to be: taking a test, being late for something, meeting someone new, being the first one to do something, or helping to plan a special event. In an earlier version, even "doing your chores" was said to cause stress.

  3. Undermining the role and credibility of police. The role of police is to protect the public safety, and to respond to emergencies. It is neither fair nor reasonable to expect them to take on the job of teaching mental health and attitudes. Nor it is helpful for civics education for children to be taught fictitious "rights." When a child grows up and learns that she was lied to about her "right to be happy," how will she feel about the officer who taught her otherwise, or the school in which she was so taught?

  4. Not fair to professional teachers. D.A.R.E. mocks their years of study, by asking them to step aside for a high school graduate with two weeks training to come in and teach mental health and psychology. If police officers have the education and training necessary to be good teachers, what is the point of requiring years of study and teaching certificates?

    If Johnny can't read, teachers bear accountability. If Johnny doesn't stay off drugs, will the police take responsibility for the failure of drug education in schools, and protect teachers from any attribution of blame?

  5. Sacrifices excessive academic time. D.A.R.E. consumes approximately seventeen hours of academic time that would otherwise be available for science, math, reading or some other academic subject. In the absense of any proof that D.A.R.E. works, this is a substantial sacrifice of valuable school time.

  6. Perpetuates the war. To many people, D.A.R.E. represents the strongest commitment our nation can make to curb drug abuse by young people, and that it deserves to be pursued, even when we know it isn't working. By thus deceiving America into thinking that we are doing something serious about keeping kids off drugs, D.A.R.E. is impeding the nation's efforts to find more efficacious ways to achieve the broader goals of national drug policy, viz., to protect the public health and safety, to prevent abuse, and to eliminate the crime and violence associated with illicit drug trafficking.

    Peter G. Arlos, a Pittsfield, Massachusetts, city councillor, put it this way:

    "The tragic truth that the nation is spending $700 million a year on a program that may not work has not sunk in on the local or the national levels. A large D.A.R.E. bureaucracy has grown up that feeds on itself. The public raises no uproar because it needs the comfort of its delusion that something is being done to protect children from drugs."
    Letter, Sunday Republican (Springfield, Mass.), November 21, 1993

  7. Subverts public education by transforming schools into instruments for the propagation of prohibitionist doctrine and the perpetuation of the war waged in its defense. Although a national debate is growing over whether prohibition, enforced by war, can reasonably be expected to achieve the goals listed above, D.A.R.E. defends prohibition zealously, disputing that the distinction between legal and illegal drugs is based solely on historical anomaly. ("Drug legalization: surrender is not the answer!," National D.A.R.E. Officers Newsletter, January, 1995). Looking at history, especially pre-war Germany, some parents compare D.A.R.E. to previous instances of installing uniformed, sometimes armed, agents of the state in classrooms to tell children what their attitudes ought to be, and to obtain information about family home life which may be of interest to the state.

    This van, pictured on a web site maintained by a DARE officer, was seized by the government under a controversial program known as asset forfeiture, in which drug defendants can lose their property even if they are never found guilty of any crime.

    It is widely known that D.A.R.E. officers are instructed to put a "D.A.R.E. Box" in every classroom, into which students may drop "drug information" or questions under the pretense of anonymity. Officers are instructed that if a student "makes a disclosure related to drug use," the officer should report the information to further authorities, both school and police. This apparently applies whether the "drug use" was legal or illegal, harmless or harmful. In a number of communities around the country, students have been enlisted by the D.A.R.E. officer as informants against their parents.

  8. D.A.R.E. costs a lot of money. Glenn Levant, the D.A.R.E. executive director, states that D.A.R.E. consumes some $750,000,000 per year. The money goes to purchase paraphernalia--T-shirts, bumper stickers, caps, pens, pencils, etc.--from D.A.R.E. -licensed vendors, as well as for training and overtime salaries for police." It is important to realize that every dollar spent on D.A.R.E. is a dollar not available for a useful, educationally sound drug education program in schools. The overwhelming preponderance of federal "Drug-Free Schools" money goes into the D.A.R.E. program.


forward to section seven:
steps citizens have taken and are taking


Back to DARE TOC
[ Home - Free sign-up - The Week Online ]