Three years ago, this editorial page provided an extensive discussion of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E., program in Columbia County schools. The commentary reported that in spite of the failure of D.A.R.E. to prevent or reduce drug and alcohol use among young people, the program lived on.
Studies confirming the ineffectiveness of D.A.R.E. have continued to pile up. The U.S. Depart-ment of Education even threatened to pull D.A.R.E. off its list of approved anti-drug programs.
Finally, a day of reckoning has come. Columbia County school officials, increasingly worried about drug and alcohol abuse, are joining other enlightened school systems around the country in dumping D.A.R.E.
We feel we need a stronger focus on drugs and gangs in the middle school. Thats when actual drug experimentation begins, says Columbia County Associate Superintendent Charles Nagle.
Thus, elementary school D.A.R.E. is dead for next year, replaced in middle school with the Gang Resistance Education and Training, or G.R.E.A.T. program.
Its about time.
While D.A.R.E. is an effective public relations tool for law enforcement, it is a poor use of scarce school time. For 17 weeks, deputies lecture fifth-graders on topics ranging from drug awareness to conflict resolution. In a graduation ceremony at the end of the program, the pupils pledge to stay away from drugs.
Unfortunately, any drug-proofing effects of that pledge wear off before the ink on their diplomas dries. Every credible study of the D.A.R.E. program demonstrates that its graduates are no less likely to use alcohol or drugs. And in spite of D.A.R.E. Americas self-serving pleas that more of the program is needed, not less, one study even showed that the programs message made things worse the more students heard it!
Clearly, something that doesnt work, and which takes up valuable classroom time, should not be in schools. But D.A.R.E. has survived, mostly because well-meaning parents dont know how to deliver an anti-drug message to their own kids. They hope the schools can handle the uncomfortable details for them. (In one survey, 88 percent of parents said they would still want D.A.R.E. even if they were shown it doesnt work. Pathetic!)
We can write about it and talk about it all we want, but if parents arent willing to accept some of the responsibility of making sure their kids arent involved in these illegal activities - which can kill them - it will be an uphill battle, says School Board Chairman Wayne Bridges. We have got to get the parents to confront the problems at home and help us control what goes on at school.
Bridges is right. G.R.E.A.T. has a better track record, and got good reviews in its two-year pilot status at Columbia Middle School. Expanding G.R.E.A.T. to the systems other four middle schools is a welcome move, as is the courageous decision to get the D.A.R.E. monkey off the elementary schools back.
But no program, whatever its reputation, will keep kids away from drugs if parents arent reinforcing the life-saving message at home.
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