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The Dire Consequences Of DARE

Published: Fri, 4 Dec 1998
Source: Boulder Weekly (CO)
Author: Wayne Laugesen

Epp and Beckner are right (and we don't say that often)

Police Chief Mark Beckner and Boulder County Sheriff George Epp recently dumped the local chapters of DARE, a national mistake known as Drug Abuse Resistance Education.  They should be applauded for their bold actions, which hopefully will put Boulder at the leading edge of an overnight national trend.

Publicly, Beckner says he has nothing against DARE, which every year dispatches police officers to preach against the evils of drug use to 35 million fifth graders nationally.  The police chief allows that the program wasn't meeting the community's needs.  Epp criticizes DARE for lacking flexibility.  They're being polite.

The truth: DARE led to an increase in drug abuse among teenagers.

I suspected that in 1996 when the U.S.  Department of Health and Human Services issued a report showing a rise in teen drug use of 78 percent between 1992 and 1995 on the heels of DARE's most prolific years of growth. Some high profile potheads at Boulder's Sacred Herb Church-where toking joints once served as communion-also felt strongly that DARE was leading children to drugs.  And who would know better, I thought.

Shortly after the HHS report broke, I conducted some research, which involved contacting the people who know DARE best-its founders.

I called psychologist William Hansen, whose research formed the basis for DARE.  Hansen was a professor of psychology at the University of Southern California when DARE was started in 1983 by then-Los Angeles Police Chief Darryl Gates, whose son was addicted to drugs.  Hansen said the LAPD took an anti-drug model he had developed while it was in its infant stages and ran with it.  More than a decade later, Hansen observed, DARE was still using the exact same model, even though he himself had scrapped it as one of many unsuccessful attempts to develop a workable anti-drug program for schools. "DARE was misguided as soon as they adopted our material, because we were off base," Hansen told me.  "It's outdated material that does not work."

I called Bill Colson, the world-renowned psychologist who co-authored 17 books with the late Carl Rogers, former president of the American Psychological Association.  In the '60s and '70s, Colson and Rogers, along with renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow, developed and popularized psychological practices known as "experimental education," "humanistic psychology," and "self-actualization." Their theories formed the foundation for Hansen's research.

Like Hansen, Colson, Rogers and Maslow all eventually said "oops," regarding the theories DARE was founded upon.

"DARE is rooted in trash psychology," Colson told me two years ago.  "We developed the theories that DARE was founded on, and we were wrong.  Even Abe Maslow wrote about these theories being wrong before he died."

Which is true, said Boulder psychotherapist Ellen Maslow, Abraham Maslow's daughter.  She called DARE "nonsense" in 1996, saying the program represented widespread misinterpretation of humanistic psychology.

Ellen Maslow said her father's vision of humanistic psychology was misunderstood by public educators, who bent and twisted it and ended up making childhood "self-esteem" a central focus of public education. Self-esteem is a central focus in DARE, and Ellen Maslow says it has led to narcissism and self-indulgence.

Other critics of self-esteem are easy to find these days.  "Saddam Hussein and Stalin had great self-esteem," Norm Resnick, a psychologist and national radio talk show host told me.  "Children need authoritative guidance. Self-esteem alone doesn't translate into making good decisions." Still not convinced DARE was all bad, I contacted psychologist Richard H.  Blum at Stanford University School of Medicine.  At the time, Blum was heading the single largest ongoing study of drug education in the United States, published as "Drug Education: Results and Recommendations.

"Basically, we have found again and again that drug education in schools causes kids to take on drugs and alcohol sooner than they would without the education," Blum told me.

Colson summed it up best.  "As they get a little older, they become very curious about these drugs they've learned about from police officers.  The kids start thinking, 'I don't want to say no.' Then they say, 'Didn't that police officer tell me it's my perfect right to choose?' And thus, they choose to experiment."

By now police departments must know this.  But DARE is first and foremost about money.  According to Hansen, taxpayers spend about $125 per DARE pupil. "What this does is channel a lot of money to police departments, and that's why they like it," Hansen says.

Responding to Boulder's abandonment of the program, DARE spokesman Ralph Lockridge had the gall to suggest we need more of it.  The program should be broadened to include high school students, not just fifth graders, he claims.

"It's sort of like teaching someone 17 piano lessons in the fifth grade and expecting them to remember anything without any reinforcement when you test them in high school," Lockridge told the Sunday Camera.

This man obviously suffers from excessive self-esteem disorder.

In truth, DARE's expectation is far sillier than Lockridge's piano analogy suggests.  He'd be accurate to say: "It's like teaching students 17 piano lessons in the fifth grade and then expecting them to never touch a keyboard."

Despite their public politeness, I suspect Sheriff Epp and Chief Beckner have figured all this out and no longer wish to sponsor a program that spawns young drug addicts.

Unfortunately, both men have suggested some other program might replace DARE.  They should think about the lack of success world-renowned psychologists have had in finding a way to introduce the subject of drugs without it backfiring.

In school, students are supposed to learn.  Teach them math, they'll use math.  Teach them reading, they will read.  Teach them about drugs, they will toke up.

We ought to celebrate the local dumping of DARE.  Then take the opportunity to urge the school district and local law enforcement to reject drug education in schools.  Let individual guardians of children figure out the complex issue of adolescent drug abuse on an individual basis.

Here's a proposition for the Boulder Police Department, Sheriff Epp and the Boulder Valley School District: Dare to have no drug intervention program at all.  Let's call it DIRE-Drug Intervention Resistance Endeavor.  The goal will be zero tolerance for drug education in public schools.

The results will be astounding.  Fewer children will use drugs, more classroom time will be spent on legitimate education, and police will be able to focus on crime.

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