Billions have been spent educating our kids in schools about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and despite the best of intentions; these programs have failed. Independent evaluations of DARE and other school anti drug message courses show absolutely no difference in drug taking behaviors between teens exposed to school education, and those not. In response, a lot of schools (with justification) have decided that their scant resource dollars would be better spent elsewhere, and the intensity of drug education in our nation’s schools has fallen somewhat.
A better way?
University researchers at USC decided to change the matrix slightly, and see if they couldn’t design a better drug education program. They enlisted the help of approximately 500 alternative school high school students, a traditionally high risk group for substance use and abuse, to participate in the pilot project. These students were randomly assigned to two protocol groups. The first group received drug education within a traditional teacher led classroom program, and the second group participated in a self directed peer based program. The peer based students elected a classroom representative to lead the program, and the students ran a self directed drug education module, where they spent time divided into small groups, discussing issues pertaining to the dangers of substance abuse.
The results were mixed
On average, after evaluating drug taking behaviors for a full year after the completion of the program, students who had participated in the peer led group reported 15% less drug taking behaviors than those who had been randomly assigned to the teacher led group. Which sounds like great news, until researchers reveal that those students who participated in peer led programs amongst other students in favor of drugs…actually increased their drug usage as opposed to the teacher led group.
A bit worrisome to say the least!
It’s encouraging to see continuing research in a needed area, but for now, schools cannot be relied on for effective drug education, and as always, the job must fall to parents. Thankfully, although research has proven school programs a dismal failure, it has also revealed just how effective an open dialogue from parents on the subject of drug and alcohol abuse can be. Kids whose parents talk to them about drugs don’t use drugs as much…period. Kids whose parents let the schools do it…well, that’s a bit of a gamble, and if the above study tells us anything, the kind of drug education peers are getting from peers may not be the sort of thing parents envision when they imagine "school drug education".