The DARE Program and a Parent's Concerns

The DARE Program and a Parent's Concerns
Posted by FoM on January 20, 2000 at 05:46:24 PT
By Karin Chenoweth
Source: Washington Post
Dear Homeroom:My child's fifth-grade class just completed the 17 sessions of DARE, leaving me wondering whether the time allotted for this program is worth the disruption of class work.My child was 9 years old during the program. She and her friends still hold hands. Some still sleep with stuffed animals, and most parents we know still shield their 9-year-olds from the evening news. 
Yet the DARE program explained to her the difference between Mexican heroin and Asian heroin, that drugs are injected as well as inhaled, and that there is such a thing as an 8-year-old alcoholic.Are there any studies that have evaluated the effectiveness of the DARE program or the question of age appropriateness?Mary Kay RicksSilver SpringLet me back up a minute for those readers who don't know what DARE is.DARE, which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, is a national program run by law enforcement agencies. In this county, the city and county police departments and the sheriff's office run it. Just about all public elementary schools in Montgomery County have DARE, and many private ones as well. (Some county middle schools follow up with the COP program--Community Oriented Policing--to talk more about drugs and alcohol but also about conflict resolution and ways to avoid violence.)Part of DARE is something of a throwback to the old Officer Friendly programs, bringing a police officer into the schools to make kids trust and feel comfortable around officers.The other part is a curriculum that mostly has to do with decision making--teaching children that seemingly innocent choices can lead to bad consequences. The officers also teach a lot about alcohol and drugs, including tobacco, but police Sgt. Bill Whalen, who helps run the county's DARE program, says that specifics like the difference between Mexican heroin and Asian heroin are discussed only in answer to questions from children. "Some kids come with a lot of information," he says.Whalen says it is important to start educating children about drugs and alcohol before middle school, where they are exposed to drug use. "Eighth-graders in this county have either witnessed someone else their age or have firsthand knowledge of someone their age using drugs or alcohol," he says. That's why DARE is in fifth grade, the last grade before middle school.Whether the program is effective or age-appropriate is really unknown. Just about every survey of research on school-based drug programs I've seen has concluded that we don't know whether any of them, including DARE, are effective at preventing the illegal use of drugs and alcohol by teenagers and young adults.But, honestly, it's a difficult thing to get a handle on. We've seen drug use increase during the time DARE and other programs have been in place, but Whalen asks, "Would the increase have been greater without it?" and there is no answer.Without making great claims to the effectiveness, Whalen says: "If nothing else, it's a positive message from a positive role model. Kids are going to make their own decisions, but we've at least given them the information."Although I like the Officer Friendly part, I remain a skeptic both about whether DARE is effective and whether schools are the right venue for this kind of program. I worry that DARE veers from being educational to being propagandistic, which is by its nature noneducational.So--I was wondering if there are any high school or college students who went through the DARE program in fifth grade who could reflect on its effectiveness, either for themselves or for their friends. Did it help them get out of awkward peer-pressure situations gracefully? Did the information they learned in DARE help them avoid a situation that, looking back on, they recognize as dangerous? Was it a useful way to spend 13 or so hours?This won't be what anyone would call a scientific survey, but it might be interesting anyway. Thursday, January 20, 2000; Page M01  Copyright 2000 The Washington Post CompanyRelated Article:Study Questions Effectiveness Of DARE - 8/30/99 We Admit It? Drug War Is A Bust - 8/20/99 
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