Coulson on the DARE drug prevention programme

Author: W.R. Coulson Ph.D.


W. R. Coulson

This paper presents the results of an evaluation of the effects of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) Project, a school-based drug use prevention program, in a sample of fifth and sixth graders in North Carolina. DARE is distinguished by its use of specially trained, uniformed police officers to deliver 17 weekly lessons in the classroom. The evaluation used an experimental design employing random assignment of 20 schools to either a DARE or no-DARE condition, pre-and post-testing of both groups, control for attrition, adjustments for school effects, and control for non-equivalency between comparison groups. DARE demonstrated no effect on adolescents' use of alcohol, cigarettes, or inhalants, or on their future intentions to use these substances. However, DARE did make a positive impact on adolescents' awareness of the costs of using alcohol and cigarettes, perceptions of the media's portrayal of these substances, general and specific attitudes toward drugs, perceived attitudes toward drug use, and assertiveness.

How is it that DARE demonstrated "no effect on adolescents' use of alcohol, cigarettes, or inhalants, or on their future intentions to use these substances"? After all, isn't the program billed as "prevention"? How can it be prevention when there's no evidence it prevents anything?

We believe it's DARE's employment of so-called "affective" and "humanistic" techniques that makes it fail. Consider the "assertiveness" to which Ringwalt, Ennett and Holt refer. Assertiveness training is used in DARE to teach what are called "refusal skills" -children are apprised of their "perfect right" not to do anything they don't sincerely want to do, and are provided with techniques for getting their way.

Unquestionably, the intention is good. It's to protect the children from peer pressure and sales pitches. The problem, however, is that the method can also be employed to protect them from the influence of the legitimate authorities in their lives, including their own parents and the officials of the school. In his Advanced Value Clarification, Howard Kirschenbaum (since 1969 one of the most energetic popularizers of affective, humanistic education) makes it clear that the aim of techniques such as his own is to create autonomous children. Unfortunately, their autonomy is realized not only over against the peer group (which does not have their best interests at heart) but over against the reasonable authorities who do. In the classroom discussion groups favored in this kind of education, children learn to resist proper authority no less than improper:

In discussing value-rich areas, such as those mentioned at the beginning of this article, the teacher accepts all answers and does not try to impose his or her own views on the students....Responses are not judged as better or worse; each student's views are treated with equal respect....Choosing freely is considered better than simply yielding to authority or peer pressure....If we uphold free choice, then we value autonomy...(Kirschenbaum, 1977, pp. 12-13).

It's right, without question, to treat all students with equal respect. But to treat their views with equal respect, right or wrong? That's not only stupid but disabling.

As to assertiveness, as long as the children don't want to do drugs, it might seem there's no harm in aiming to increase it. But what about later, when one or another child decides, "Now I'm ready to experiment"? At that point the method amounts to a betrayal. For, drummed into their heads in hour after hour of classroom practice sessions, the method continues to resonate within them, insisting on their perfect right not to do anything they haven't freely chosen. "You no longer want to abstain from drugs? That too is your perfect right."

Does DARE prevent anything? Well, it does seem to prevent academics. Every hour invested in DARE is one less hour of math or language.

W. R. Coulson is a licensed psychologist. He holds doctorates from the University of Notre Dame and also from the University of California at Berkeley. In the 1960s, Dr. Coulson worked as a research associate with Drs. Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow in the study of process education and self-actualization.