Killing the Bad Guys

By Adam J. Smith, Associate Director


A study released in August by researchers at the University of Kentucky indicates that teens who went through the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program were no less likely, in the long run, to use drugs and alcohol than kids who had gotten their drug information in health class. The study is the latest in a long line of research raising questions about the efficacy of America's number one "drug education" program.

More than 70% of American schools use DARE, making it perhaps the single most pervasive curriculum in the nation. Given that rate of application, one would imagine that there was some evidence that it works. In fact, there isn't.
DARE, in which police officers come into classrooms for an hour per week for seventeen weeks to teach kids about drugs, self-esteem and resisting peer pressure, has been criticized since its inception on several grounds. Among the criticisms is DARE's zero-tolerance approach, which fails to make distinctions between different substances. Researchers have argued that treating marijuana the same as heroin, for instance, reduces the credibility of DARE's message. Others criticize DARE's law enforcement focus, which tends, they say, to demonize rather than to educate.

A DARE "graduation" ceremony held in Miami last May illustrates this point.
The ceremony was held at the Orange Bowl, with thousands of elementary school-aged DARE "graduates" in attendance to receive their certificates. The children watched Florida Governor Jeb Bush, on hand for the occasion, sign a new mandatory minimum sentencing law. But the real fun came at the end.

At the close of the ceremony, the children were treated to a special performance by the Florida Highway Patrol Special Tactics Team. The Team rolled out across the stadium's field in an armored personnel carrier. Disembarking from their tank-like vehicle, officers engaged in a "shootout" with a group of "drug dealers." The vignette ended with the officers "shooting" and "killing" the bad guys, to the obvious delight of the cheering children.

And so, having witnessed this clearly successful outcome, in which the police shot and killed-presumably without a trial-several drug suspects, these thousands of children became the latest class of DARE graduates.

Such a display would seem to be directly in line with the ethos of DARE's founder, former Los Angeles police chief Daryll Gates, who once remarked that casual drug users "should be taken out and shot." So perhaps we ought not to judge DARE's success by how many of its graduates remain drug free, but rather by the number who, as adults, are content to stand and cheer while the state shoots down their less obedient former classmates.

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