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Dare to criticize D.A.R.E., ineffectively educating our youth

Let’s start off with some simple facts of life. Water is wet, grass is green and the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) has been — even when keeping its modest mission in mind — a failure for most of the people who sat through it in their youth. 

Most of us raised in the United States remember D.A.R.E., if not for the riveting curriculum, then at least for the cool shirts that are almost exclusively worn ironically.

”To provide students with the knowledge and tools they need to resist drugs, alcohol and other high-risk behaviors” is D.A.R.E.’s mission, according to its website. Developed in the '80s with the “Just Say No” movement by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), which has a … reputation regarding its “community outreach,” and the Los Angeles Unified School District, D.A.R.E. became nationwide and then grew to international use. 

When it comes to the general inefficacy of its program, D.A.R.E. seems to understand why. 

When detailing its history, D.A.R.E. is eager to explain where it went wrong. “While discussion was encouraged, the prevailing approach in the original curriculum involved the D.A.R.E. Officer teaching each lesson,” according to the website. Undoubtedly, that’s one of the primary issues concerning a program like D.A.R.E., which relies on visiting instructors whose job is to throw some information your way. 

Lectures are the name of the game in college, but when you’re in a room full of 13-year-olds, it’s clear that that approach won’t work.

Post-2007, it seems that the program got the message that walking into a room, introducing kids to a whole bunch of drugs they’d never heard of and telling them not to do them wasn’t a winning strategy. 

This isn’t to discount all of the work it has done before 2007, but it ties into the lack of real grappling with D.A.R.E.’s mission. 

Since its moment of enlightenment, it has been noted that its “teaching style became interactive with an emphasis on facilitation, rather than a didactic presentation model. Instead of listening to a lecture, students spend most class time working in small cooperative learning groups, guided by the D.A.R.E. officer as they apply a decision-making model to develop their own unique ways of positively addressing high-risk situations in their lives.”

This was, undoubtedly, a step in the right direction, but there are aspects of the D.A.R.E. program that are far from conducive to meeting its long-term goals. 

One of the crucial tenets to effective pedagogy is building upon a student’s prior experiences and learning. The National College for School Leadership (NCSL), a former branch of the United Kingdom’s Department of Education, listed taking these past experiences as one of the nine keys to quality teaching. 

“In the mid-20th century, research into children’s learning and cognitive development was heavily influenced by the work of (Jean) Piaget ... Piaget’s approach to child development emphasized three elements: the way a child explored her environment, the developmental stages through which children passed in making sense of the environment and the role of adults in assessing a child’s readiness to learn,” a report from the agency stated.

This ties back to the irony of the progenitors, and current teachers, of D.A.R.E.’s message: the police. In many communities around the country, to put it simply, the police aren’t trusted. A 2017 Gallup poll reported that 57% of Americans have “a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in” the police, which is the historical average. 

Regardless of whether you think that’s a good number for the police in general, it’s not the best for people who are required to teach the youth. When a police uniform is enough to turn off a student to what they’ll hear, it’s clear that having a police officer teach D.A.R.E. programs is hustling backward in large swathes of the country.

D.A.R.E. also has an interesting take on the increasing legalization of marijuana. It correctly stated that “it is neither safe nor healthy for students and all children under the age of 18 to use marijuana,” but with the stated goal of effecting future use, the way it has taught that marijuana is to be avoided in any circumstance is, once again, contradictory at best.  

These are far from the only reasons why D.A.R.E. didn’t work, but it has substantial issues with the program. Cool t-shirts aside, all you have to do is walk down Easton Avenue any given Saturday night to see that D.A.R.E. didn’t always, and probably rarely, met its own marks.

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