Twenty-five years ago, DARE was all the rage. Every school had a cop visiting regularly, teaching kids about “stranger danger” and how terrible drugs were. Police chiefs liked it because they could get the schools (with grants from state, feds and non-profits) to pay the salary of a full-time cop for the cost of a few hours a week in the classroom during the school year. Politicians and parents loved it because somebody had to do something about youth on drugs, and they preferred that something not include teachers teaching facts and science about substance abuse. Police could be counted on to produce reliably negative propaganda.
It was pretty well established at the time that, at least as far as preventing drug use, DARE was useless. It was a big money-maker for a company started by ex-LA police chief Ed Davis, kids got T-shirts and cops got new toys to use to impress the kids. But whenever a reputable researcher did a study of older kids to determine which used drugs and which didn’t, there turned out to be no difference between those who had been exposed to DARE and those who hadn’t. I knew it was a fraud then, and may have written so at the time. Most local school systems have long since dropped the program, replacing it, I trust, with something less gimmicky and more truthful.
The idea that I may have gone too light on DARE was in the back of my mind as I wrote an editorial in today’s paper blasting Westborough school officials for a new drug policy that empowers staff to take saliva samples from students at will. It’s not random drug testing, officials assure us, and will only be used on “suspicious” students. As someone who made up his mind about assistant principals back in junior high school, an impression that (with rare exceptions) has been reinforced in the decades since, I’m convinced more harm than good comes from turning teachers and school nurses into narcs.
There’s a contradiction between teaching kids and busting them. A student-teacher relationship is based on respect and trust; law enforcement is built on a much different dynamic. That’s why I’d like to get the remaining cops (“resource officers,” they are euphemistically called) out of schools.