As a parent I've attended all kinds of shows and rituals that involved my twin daughters. There have been plays, recitals, graduations, sporting events and rights of passage. Some have been a lot of fun, some have been agonizingly tedious, but only one was downright creepy.
They were in the fifth grade when my wife and I attended their D.A.R.E. graduation. It started with a hundred kids taking their seats in the gym, each wearing identical red shirts and carrying identical handbooks. It was unnerving to see them walk in silently, with none of the joking or jockeying for seats that is normal among fifth-graders. Cops and faculty made speeches and spewed some indoctrination while the kids sang in unison and chanted replies on cue. It was like watching a Moonie wedding or the crowd at a Chairmen Mao speech. I kept waiting for them to all jump up together, thrust their fists in the air and shout "Death the intellectual bourgeoisie!"
D.A.R.E. is extremely popular and completely ineffective. It was created by former Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates, who said "Casual drug users ought to be taken out and shot." Study after study shows no difference in drug use among kids who have been exposed to it and kids who haven't. It doesn't seem to be harmful, it's just a complete waste of time and several hundred million dollars. The only advantage is kids get to see cops as human beings instead of distant, dangerous authority figures, which is a good lesson unless they're a black kid in Daryl Gates' town.
When my kids were in kindergarten my wife and I attended our first school function. We were served snacks on our kid's Styrofoam lunch trays. At the top of each one, embossed in 3D, was the message "Just Say No To DRUGS!" The word "DRUGS!" was much larger and bolder than anything else, so every time a five year old looked at their food "DRUGS!" was burned a little deeper into their impressionable minds. I'm sure someone thought this was a brilliant idea.
I went through school before D.A.R.E was around, but we received our share of anti-drug education as well. I remember the moment our teachers lost all credibility on the subject. It was in the eighth grade. We were shown a film of a kid smoking a joint. He took two hits, then glanced in a mirror and was terrified to see a hideous monster looking back. Everyone laughed out loud. Even the straightest kid in the class (me, at the time) knew it was a fraud. From that point on any and all information the schools presented on the subject was considered a lie, no matter how accurate it really was.
The following year our health teacher warned us that if we smelled pot at a party we should leave immediately. He tried to burn some tablets that were supposed to smell like marijuana, so we could recognize the odor, but had trouble getting them lit. He tried lighting them in a dish, but that didn't work. Then he tried holding them and lighting them, but they were just a little too small. He burned his fingers twice before a couple of kids came to his rescue by handing him an assortment of roach clips.
Several years later the famous "This is your Brain on Drugs" commercial hit the airwaves. The ad aired late at night, when those it was aimed at were likely to have already indulged. They'd be sitting home with their friends, stoned and sleepy, not paying much attention to anything, when the commercial came on and showed them an egg. "This is your brain," said the announcer. The egg was cracked into a hot frying pan, where it immediately sizzled into a tasty looking sunny side up breakfast. "This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?" Yeah, and the question was "Hey, everybody, want to go to Denny's?" The only thing the ad accomplished was putting more hungry stoners on the road, the foggiest minds of my generation destroyed by munchies, starving hysterical in Grateful Dead tie-Dyes, driving themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for a plate of eggs, angelheaded hippies burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night and Moons Over My Hammy with a side of orange juice. (Sorry, Alan.)One very important thing is missing from all the anti-drug education: the answer to the question "Why would anyone ever do drugs?" Most programs, including D.A.R.E, either avoid the question or outright lie about it. The only way most kids discover the real answer is to try drugs themselves. And once they do, they'll never again believe any of the people who lied to them about it.
The real answer is: People take drugs because it makes them feel great!
With that in mind that I've instituted my own anti-drug program with my kids. It's called Dave's Absolutely Realistic Education. Here's what I've taught them:
"People take drugs because it makes them feel great. Some people get caught or dead or otherwise in trouble the first time they do it, but most people don't. They feel great and nothing horrible happens to them. So, the next time they want to feel great, they do drugs again. And once again, they feel great, and once again nothing bad seems to happen. Pretty soon they get the idea that they can keep doing drugs without risk.
They get lazy very quickly. All the things they used to do to feel good require some effort; some even require hard work. It's much easier to get high. And eventually, and it doesn't take too long, getting high becomes the only way they have left to feel great. Before they know it they've left behind old friends, they're not doing anything worth while, and the drug becomes the center of their existence, their reason for living. And that's when the really nasty garbage usually starts."
So far it has been 100% effective. Although a sample size of two is too small to prove anything scientifically, I'm very happy with the results.
I hope my kids will never try an illegal drug. I also hope they never get drunk or fall in love with an asshole or get a bad job review or a nasty boss or a traffic ticket or a painful hangnail. But I have to do whatever I can to prepare them for the lousy stuff that happens to everyone. If they do take that hit on a joint and feel great without seeing monsters in the mirror, what I've taught them will still ring true. And maybe, just maybe, that will be enough to keep them from going for it the second or third or fourth time.
By the way, when talking to a D.A.R.E cop, don't make any jokes about the program. They won't think "Drugs Are Really Expensive" is amusing, nor will they smile if you say "Drugs Are Really Excellent." Don't ask me how I know, just trust me on this one.
A critical look at D.A.R.E. .
Parents, if your kid is getting D.A.R.E. indoctrination and there's an old bong in the attic get rid of it now.
Seven years after writing this article I discovered the "Monster in The Mirror" film on YouTube. It starts at about 4:20 in this clip.
This article is available as a podcast. Click here to listen. (Right Click to download.) Find more Quick Hitts podcasts here.
© 1999 Dave Hitt
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