Pubdate: Thu, 31 Oct 2002
Source: Troy Messenger (AL)
Copyright: 2002 Troy Messenger
Author:  Stephen Stetson


"Batman" and two lions came to Troy Elementary School on Tuesday to teach 
students about the evils of drugs. Troy police officer Mark Jones, aka 
"Batman," is a 13-year veteran of teaching DARE classes but was given the 
nickname early in his teaching career due to the fact that he conducts 
classes in full uniform, including gun and nightstick. The two lions are 
stuffed icons, mascots of the DARE program, that travel with Jones from 
class to class.

Students are thrilled by the plush lions, begging to hold them while Jones 
preaches about the destructive effects of cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, 
cocaine, crack and other illegal drugs. Their enthusiasm is shared by Troy 
Police Chief Anthony Everage, who says that the TPD has "had interest in 
establishing a DARE program for several years."

And now Troy has one: a brand new 17-week program of drug education taught 
to fifth-graders by a uniformed police officer. However, several national 
experts on drug policy say that the DARE program is a step in the wrong 

Against The Trends

"So many schools have abandoned DARE that I thought that it was a dead 
issue," said Lynn Zimmer, professor of sociology at Queens College. "I had 
put all my files in storage."

"It sounds like you are going against the tide," said Dr. Marsha Rosembaum, 
a medical sociologist and Director of the San Francisco offices of the Drug 
Policy Alliance. Rosenbaum also had trouble believing that cities were 
still starting up DARE programs.

"All of the evaluations about DARE show that it does nothing to prevent 
drug use. A lot of districts are dropping DARE," she said.

Among those cities dropping DARE in recent years: Montgomery. Montgomery 
joined Oakland, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Rochester, N.Y., as the latest 
major cities to decide that the DARE program was not an appropriate use of 
resources. Salt Lake City's mayor, Rocky Anderson, has become one of DARE's 
most outspoken critics and encourages city officials to rethink their 
approaches to drug education.

According to Capt. Curtis Forte of the Montgomery Police Department, the 
DARE program in Montgomery public schools was abolished in August 2000. 
After supporting the program for eight years, Forte said that city 
principals and board of education decided the program was driving down test 

"It was a distraction. What we were teaching them wasn't helping them on 
tests," he said.

As to the success of the DARE program in preventing student drug use, Forte 
couldn't provide any answers.

"DARE America, the national organization, didn't want you to track any of 
the kids to see whether or not they were actually using drugs," he said.

A National Phenomena

So what is this national organization that didn't want the police to track 
the possible drug use of young people? How did it come to Troy and take up 
an hour a week of classroom time? The answers lie amid the rocky terrain of 
the national debate about drug policy and how to educate young people about 
the harms of substance abuse.

Perhaps no drug awareness program has been studied more often and in more 
detail than DARE. Critics decry it as outdated, even as its curriculum is 
constantly revised to respond to the criticism. Opponents say that teaching 
tools like Daren, the cuddly stuffed lion, fail to provide information 
about drugs in a realistic manner. Defenders of the program emphasize the 
potential positive effects of exposing young people to anti-drug messages.

DARE was designed in 1983 in Los Angeles by a curriculum developer named 
Ruth Rich. The program was picked up for the LAPD by Chief Darryl Gates, 
who once told the U.S. Senate, "the casual user ought to be taken out and 
shot, because he or she has no reason for using drugs." He touted the 
program as an effective way to teach children about the dangers of drugs 
and risky behavior, but also as a way to allow police to infiltrate public 
schools and sleuth out drug users and gang members.

However, DARE has come a long way since its days as a surveillance tool in 
LA city schools. Now, DARE America is a multi-million dollar corporation, 
propelled to national prominence by the Reagan era of "Just Say No" 
campaigns against drugs. This zero-tolerance approach to drugs can be seen 
in the fifth-grade classrooms of Troy Elementary School today.

Inside The Classroom

The program, now in only its second of 17 units, consists of a weekly 
hour-long class taught to fifth-grade students by a uniformed police 
officer. Jones is one of the most experienced DARE teachers in the state. 
He is a product of the first class of graduates from Alabama's DARE 
training academy in Huntsville and conducted DARE classes in Henry County 
for several years.

The actual classroom curriculum centers on a workbook issued by DARE 
America, several video tapes, rolls of highly coveted stickers and, of 
course, Daren the lion. Students are told about cigarettes, alcohol, 
marijuana, cocaine, LSD, crack and several other illegal drugs. They wear 
shiny sticker badges declaring them to be "Troy Junior Police Officers." 
They work in groups to discuss methods for refusing peer pressure and they 
explore other issues, such as self-esteem.

Sure, the Patti Lynn music video didn't thrill every student. The crooning 
singer wrote a theme song for DARE, which is shown to students spliced with 
grainy footage of "drug dealers" and scenes of kids in DARE shirts having 
fun at an amusement park. One student, when asked what he thought of the 
song, would only shake his head.

Still, it is virtually impossible to argue that fifth-graders at Troy 
Elementary School don't love DARE. The anti-drug cartoon that followed the 
music video elicited laughter in several classes and the desire to be the 
student chosen to hold the lion was nearly tangible. The number of hands 
that shot up after Jones would ask a question would make any math teacher 
jealous. The students seemed genuinely sad to see Jones leave at the end of 
the class.

Beyond The Smiles

But aside from the rather obvious fact that young people love stickers, 
stuffed animals and cartoons, how effective is the program? A great deal of 
evidence suggests that the effects leave something to be desired.

"Of course kids like it. They like the officer, like the break from classes 
and, at the end, they'll say exactly the things that you expect them to 
say," Zimmer said. "But it doesn't have a bearing on the choices that they 
make in the real world."

A 10-year study conducted by The University of Kentucky and published in 
the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology concluded that DARE "has 
no long term effect on drug use." According to a release accompanying the 
study, which followed more than 1,000 students for 10 years after their 
exposure to DARE, "Although the DARE intervention produced a few initial 
improvements in the students' attitudes toward drug use, the researchers 
found that these changes did not persist over time. There were no effects 
in actual drug use initially or during the follow-up period."

According to Dr. Donald Lynam, a psychologist who worked on the study, 
"Some youth will use drugs and this will likely affect their lives in 
negative ways. We should try to do something for these youth, but DARE is 
probably not the thing to do."

"They either forget it or they grow up to make fun of it," said Zimmer.

As for quantifying its effectiveness, critics say that hoping to save just 
one life isn't enough.

"You could do any policy just to save one person," said Zimmer. "You could 
lower the speed limit just to make a difference in one person's life, but 
I'm not sure that that's the measure that we should use."

The City's Reasoning

The Troy Police Department remains a strong proponent of the program. Sgt. 
Benny Scarbrough, spokesman for the Troy Police Department, was dismissive 
of such findings when asked about the Kentucky study.

"You can't put a numeric value on quality," he said. "We want to present 
young people with every opportunity and we want them to enjoy it. They 
enjoy this program."

Jones also said he believes that the program is worth the effort, despite 
the criticism.

"If I can save one person with DARE, it's worthwhile. If we save even one 
percent, it's worth it. I'm very optimistic," he said.

Mayor Jimmy Lunsford, who helped to support the efforts of the TPD's new 
DARE program said that he was unfamiliar with the arguments used by critics 
of the program.

"I am unaware of those studies, but DARE has been successful in a lot of 
places. I don't have any real firsthand knowledge or any quantifiable 
results. It has a positive effect until proven otherwise," he said.

Lunsford recently declared drug and alcohol use to be "an epidemic" in his 
proclamation that declared the last week in October to be part of the 
anti-drug campaign called Red Ribbon Week.

Superintendent of Troy City Schools Hank Jones said that the program was 
valuable, but should not be expected to be a cure for all drug use among 
young people.

"It wouldn't be smart to rely only on one program, and that's true of any 
program. But it could have some positive effects," he said.

Jones said that the schools needed a comprehensive effort to deal with 
drugs, from including the study of drugs in science and health classes to 
police making unannounced sweeps through the high school and middle school 

As for driving down test scores, Jones is not worried.

"That's absolutely not a concern. We have a balanced program and currently 
all of our schools are clear. It's not going to be a 24 hour a day thing," 
he said.

An Issue Of Accuracy

But beyond the arguments of Montgomery school officials that DARE drives 
down test scores and beyond Rosenbaum's argument about spending finite 
resources lies yet another critique of DARE. Experts like Zimmer and 
Rosenbaum say that DARE misrepresents the realities of the world that 
pressures young people to experiment with drugs.

In the Troy Elementary School DARE class, students read stories about kids 
using drugs and were then asked to tell the class about the harmful effects 
of the particular drug that they studied. Although several of the negative 
effects of drugs were accurately drawn out of the stories, some students 
offered up conclusions such as "drugs can kill you," even when their 
stories involved less than lethal chemicals and fatalities were not 
mentioned in their stories.

"The use of drugs and alcohol is a risk, sure, but the fact is that most 
people don't die," said Zimmer.

"DARE is based on the false premise that all use of drugs is abuse. Most 
use is not abuse,"said Richard Evans, a Massachusetts attorney and former 
drug policy activist.

"Lifetime abstinence is simply not a realistic goal. DARE does not address 
what happens when these kids grow up. Their message is muddle, distorted 
and propagandistic," he said.

Evans also takes issue with the lifestyle messages of DARE. According to 
Jones, DARE teaches ""positive lifestyles" and the DARE workbook warns 
against things like graffiti writers and people with tattoos.

"They pretend to teach self-esteem and decision making, but the mandate for 
abstinence is a decision that has already been made for them," Evans said.

Officer Jones said that he has seen the program work.

"In my experience, it works. Kids grow closer to law enforcement officers 
and can make a more assertive response to drugs. DARE teaches kids how to 
say no. We don't say that you'll never see it. We teach them that they are 
going to be confronted by it and how to handle it when that happens. Having 
self-esteem makes it easier to say 'no' and to be with the right crowd," he 

An Alternative Approach?

The critics of DARE are not opposed to drug education for young people, nor 
do they harbor anti-police sentiments.

"There is a role for police officers in the schools. They should tell kids 
about the laws and the legal consequences of using drugs. But drugs are a 
health issue and they should be treated as such. Kids need to know the 
consequences of putting things, whether food or drugs, into their bodies," 
Rosenbaum said.

"Is it possible to prevent experimentation? I'm skeptical and surveys bear 
me out. 80 percent of young people try alcohol by graduation and half try 
illegal drugs. We need to bring in nurses and doctors."

"I'd like to see more help for kids with social and family trouble. That's 
how we could prevent most serious drug problems," Zimmer said.

The Future Of DARE

As for the cost of the current bumper stickers, workbooks and stuffed 
lions, DARE America has borrowed a line from one of their cartoon drug 
dealers: "First one's free."

According to Scarbrough, the first shipment of materials has been given to 
the TPD compliments of DARE America. Future shipments will come at a cost, 
but the Troy Exchange Club has already donated some funds to the program 
and TPD has applied for a grant from the Alabama Drug Education and 
Awareness Oversight Council to fund future DARE activities.

According to Alabama state law, the council, which was created in 1995, 
"shall require grantees to provide a local match for state funding in the 
ratio of thirty cents for each seventy cents of state dollars; except that 
those existing Project DARE and DON'T programs which have previously 
received state appropriations shall provide an amount equal to the greater 
of the previous level of local funding or the matching ratio of 30 to 70 
provided for above."

According to Scarbrough, the TPD has hopes of expanding the DARE program to 
third- and seventh-graders within the coming years. Despite the words of 
the critics and the cities who have ditched DARE, they hope to expand the 
message of Daren, the lion who hops across the DARE Web page and tells 
young people to "just say no" to drugs.
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