Challenging Dogma - Spring 2009

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Road to D.A.R.E Was Paved With Good Intentions: A Critique of the D.A.R.E. Program in the U.S. – Jinné N. Richards

Part 1:Introduction
Experimentation with alcohol and drugs is so common among today’s young people that it is unfortunately often considered normative. Yet, in 1983 the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program was developed by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles School District in response to the growing incidence of drug use among high school students. Soon after, the program became the basis for drug education curricula across the United States. This program’s major objective was to bring uniformed police officers into the elementary school classrooms for about one hour per week for one semester to lecture the students mostly on information about drugs and the consequences of their use. Following the didactic session was a question and answer section. Additionally, the students were given homework assignments for completion for the following session (1).
However, since its inception, a growing body of evidence has shown that the D.A.R.E program is ineffective in preventing drug use among adolescents. Specifically, students who were exposed to D.A.R.E. fared no better than students without D.A.R.E. (1). Proposed reasons for the program’s lack of effectiveness ranged from the claim that the program inadvertently glamorized drugs by providing information about the various classes and methods of use to sending mixed messages about drug use. In actuality, not all drug use results in life-long addiction, a concept that was inherent to the D.A.R.E. curriculum. Upon review of the program, it is evident that several of the causes for this program’s failure were rooted in flaws with the program’s curriculum as well as the instructors themselves. Therefore the purpose of this paper is to provide three theories explaining why the D.A.R.E. program does not succeed in decreasing adolescent drug use. These theories include: the use of the labeling theory, the curriculum’s disregard for the importance of peer influence on an individual’s behavior, and lastly, the effect instructor interaction may have on an individual’s trust and retention of the presented material.
Argument 1: The Labeling Theory
The first reason the D.A.R.E. program fails to reduce adolescent drug use is due to how the instructors label using drugs as a socially deviant behavior. The labeling theory concerns how self-identity and/or behavior of an individual may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify him or her (2). Part of the D.A.R.E. curriculum involves labeling drug use as being associated with socially deviant individuals and behavior, and this concept is emphasized and reinforced by program lecturers. Thus, according to Gunnar-Bernbug et al, when “… an act of deviance is publicly announced and defined as immoral… the immoral character of the actor is highlighted …[which then illuminates]… the [similarities] shared by [stigmatized youths] while also differentiating them from those who are not labeled (Gunnar-Bernbug 69-70).” Those who are contemplating drug use, or who are already using drugs, are highlighted and stigmatized by their peers. As a direct result of this program’s stigmatization, the labeled youth may “… withdraw from interaction with conventional peers …[and subsequently the conventional peers may] avoid publicly known deviants, ‘fearing the social stigma may rub off’ (Gunnar-Bernbug 71).” Thus, as a direct result of this stigmatization, the labeled youth may isolate his or herself for fear of rejection, or be shunned by his or her peers, and excluded from social networks within his or her environment.
As a result of being stigmatized, and subsequently isolated by their peers, individuals may then go on to seek acceptance by peers who are in similarly isolated situations. Stigmatized youths tend to seek out “…deviant groups in order to be with those who are in a similarly disadvantaged social position [and]… share their deviant self-concepts and attitudes (Gunnar-Bernbug 70).” They may be drawn to these groups not only because the members are in similarly isolated situations, but also because they may share the same attitudes and behaviors. Moreover, these groups provide isolated youths with a sense of social support…[and] social shelter from those who react negatively towards their…status (Gunnar-Bernbug 70)”. Thus, once an individual has been isolated socially from his or her peers based on his or her behaviors or actions, it is likely that he or she will seek out others who have been similarly isolated, and form groups in which they can receive support, camaraderie, and, at times, protection from those who have declared them outcasts.
In addition to the isolated groups providing social shelter from stigma, these groups also encourage the same socially deviant behavior for which the individual is being stigmatized. These social groups provide the individual with “…collective rationalizations, definitions, peer pressure, and opportunities that encourage and facilitate deviant behavior (Gunnar-Bernbug 82).” Once the individual has entered into the group, the latter will dictate his or her behavior, and will encourage him or her to part-take of any deviant behavior. Likewise, this deviant behavior is not limited to one period of time, for which the individual is likely to out-grow this behavior. Studies have shown that “…deviant labeling during adolescence may be a consequential event for the life course, pushing or leading youths on a pathway of blocked structured opportunities and delinquency [well into] young adulthood (Gunnar-Bernbug 83).” Therefore, adolescence is not the only age group who is vulnerable to the effects of socially deviant behavior, but this behavior can carry over into young adulthood, and may dictate the individual’s entire life-course.
Argument 2: Peer Groups
The second reason that the D.A.R.E. program failed its goals involves the fact that this does not prioritize the effect that one’s peers may have on influencing the initiation of drug behavior. Studies have shown “ … the most potent proximal influence on pattern of drug use in adolescence [are their] peers (Steinberg 1060).” Elementary children are exposed to the effects of drug use during this time period via the D.A.R.E program, but by the time they are in their adolescence, they may have likely forgotten the majority of the program’s teachings. Yet the most predictive factor of whether or not an individual chooses to begin engaging in drug use and/or socially deviant behavior is whether they have peers who engage in the same behavior. In addition to dictating the initiation of drug use, once the group an individual associates with has started using drugs and/or participating in a socially deviant behavior, he or she “…[is] more likely … to make the transition into heavier substance use [as a group] (Steinberg 1063).” So, once the individual has made the decision to remain in the group, and to initiate socially deviant behavior, it is likely that, as a group, they will make a collective decision to not only continue the behavior, but to progress on to harsher and more dangerous substances.
By underestimating peer influence on an individual’s decision to do drugs, The D.A.R.E. program has ignored a potentially significant source of peer influence and/or peer pressure. Studies on teen addictive behavior and substance use have concluded, “If an individual is involved with peers who do not engage in the use of drugs and alcohol, he or she will … be less likely to begin involvement (Steinberg 1063).” If individuals who have been socially isolated in groups based on deviant behavior are more likely to participate in deviant behavior, then it stands to reason that individuals who are in groups that do not participate in deviant behavior are less likely to participate in socially deviant behavior. Moreover, if an individual with a socially deviant behavior is in a group that does not participate in his or her behavior, the same individual may feel compelled to discontinue the behavior because he or she “…may be encouraged [by his or her peers] to reduce already present levels of substance use (Steinberg 1063).” So, if, by chance, a teen has entered a group where the majority does not mirror his or her behavior, the young person may modify his or her behavior more because of the group dynamic and less because of the information he or she has acquired about the hazards of that behavior.
Argument 3: Lack of Trust
Lastly, one of the most difficult tasks that the D.A.R.E program tries to accomplish is attempting to modify behaviors with very strong developmental components via a curriculum that is least conducive to behavior modification. D.A.R.E. utilizes a series of lectures on drug use followed by a question and answer session, which ultimately limits the amount of interaction the students have with their instructor. This approach is thought to be counter-productive particularly in this age group because “Interactive programs tend to emphasize developing drug-specific social skills [necessary for resisting drug use,] and more social competencies [useful for recognizing risky behaviors] (Ennett 1398).” Thus, if these programs were more interactive and comprised less of lectures, the participants would be more apt to acquire skills for recognizing and resisting drug use as a result of peer influence. These skills would be carried over into the subsequent developmental phase of adolescence, and would be less likely to be forgotten.
Moreover, there are seldom opportunities for the participant to develop any rapport and/or trust with the instructors given the lack of direct participant-instructor interaction. Trust of the instructor is most likely to be achieved through “…everyday interactions [or]… by the way the teacher [interacts] with her or him in their continuing contacts with each other (Woolen 95).” Since the D.A.R.E. program is taught through a series of lectures by police officers for a one hour per week during one semester of their elementary school years, and there is limited interaction, there is both a lack of continuity and a lack of communication between the participants and the instructors, which will most likely result in a loss of rapport/trust between them. Thus, it is quite evident that the instructors are unaware that they “…not only provide facts and information, but also [impact] how students perceive them as [resources] (Banfield 65).” Therefore, the instructors might be unaware that they are responsible for more than just delivering the information to the students. They are also responsible for establishing a rapport with their students to ensure maximum acceptance, and thus retention of the information.
Because the participants do not trust their instructors, they are unlikely to accept as true any information that they obtain from their instructors. Research has shown that “… if the teacher is able to increase the affect of their students… then positive instructional outcomes are likely to occur (Banfield 65).” Thus, there is a direct positive correlation between a student’s trust for his or her instructor and whether or not he or she is likely to not only believe the presented information, but whether he or she is likely to retain and utilize it. In direct contrast to this concept, if the instructor is perceived to be less than truthful and/or reliable, then their “…students’ affect for them will likely be reduced and negative instructional outcomes will result (Banfield 65)”. Hence, it is this perception of the instructors that dictates whether or not the information they present will be viewed as factual and, thus, remembered, or whether it will be viewed with skepticism and then quickly forgotten.
Part 1 Conclusion
The D.A.R.E. Program was created to deter youths from experimenting with drugs or to discontinue its use once they have already started. But it failed to reach these goals because its creators were unable to incorporate a basic understanding of the sub-culture of the population it was suppose to serve. They were unable to reach their goals because they failed to understand how labeling deviant behavior could glamorized drug use, and subsequently appeal to many adolescents if the group they identify with approves of such behavior. Additionally, the creators did not have a basic understanding of the importance of the instructor-student relationship as it pertains to the faith and subsequent retention of the material being presented. Failure to recognize and understand the power of peer pressure on adolescent behavior led to the rapid subsequent discontinuation of the program by many school districts across the United States. A careful and through study of the population is imperative if the program is going to be relevant and consequently, beneficial. D.A.R.E. was created with good intentions, but it takes more than that to execute a successful drug free program.
Part 2 Proposed Intervention: The New D.A.R.E. Program
The new proposed D.A.R.E. program will involve many of the basic fundamentals that the original program held. For example, the program will be taught to elementary school children (fifth graders) for the entire academic school year, and will focus on the dissemination of information pertaining to illegal drugs, their use as well as abuse. However, the program will utilize active participation of the students instead of a series of lectures by outside instructors.
The new program will differ from the original by being taught by the students’ own fifth grade teachers in the school, whom they already know and trust, rather than trained police officers in the community. These classroom teachers will receive formal training regarding drugs use and abuse, effective methods for conveying information, as well as words and phrases to avoid when interacting with students. The trained fifth grade teachers will then conduct a series of classroom interactive lectures and activities, as well as inviting members of the community who work to combat drug and alcohol prevention and addiction to give guest lectures. The teachers will also be encouraged to allow guest lecturers who were formerly addicted to drugs to speak to their students regarding their personal experiences with drugs and the devastating impact they had on their lives. Lastly, trained offices, some of whom may have participated in the original D.A.R.E. program, will be encouraged to give guest lectures to the fifth graders in order to supplement the lectures provided by their teachers regarding the different categories of illicit drugs.
In addition to the program being taught to fifth graders, the New D.A.R.E. Program will also be taught to seventh graders for reinforcement. This program for seventh graders will be taught by their health teachers. And much like the fifth grade teachers, these seventh grade health teachers will also need special training, particularly on the importance of avoiding categorizing people who do drugs, drink alcohol, and/or smoke as deviants. The program would be offered for only one semester (the typical length of health classes), and will be more group activity oriented and less lecture oriented. The students will have at least one lecture that will serve as a review of the materials and information covered in the fifth grade. The remaining lectures will provide data on the prevalence of drug, alcohol, and smoking in the U.S. and within their communities. One key change in this curriculum would be the introduction of a project in which each student must participate. The students would have a choice of either working in small groups to conduct research on the prevalence of teen drug use, alcohol use, or smoking/tobacco within their own schools and/or communities and its impact on performance and/or behavior. Or, they could choose to conduct an interview with members of their communities who are committed to mitigating and/or eradicating the impact of drugs within their communities. At the end of the semester, each group would be expected to write a report on their findings and give a 10-minute oral presentation to their entire health class.
Improvement 1: Mitigating the Influences of Peer Groups
Because the original D.A.R.E program underestimated the impact of one’s peers on his or her decision to do drugs, the original program was found to be mildly (if at all) effective in reducing the incidence of drug use among teens. Adolescents generally “… overestimate the prevalence of smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use among other adolescents and adults (Botvin 889)”. As a result of this overestimation, adolescents are much more inclined to believe that their peers are partaking of illicit drugs, and because they adapt the “everybody else is doing it too” attitude, they choose to begin doing drugs so that they do not feel left out (7).
However, the New D.A.R.E. Program will attempt to combat peer influences by using a social approach that provides students with what experts in the field of drug prevention call normative education. Normative education “… attempts to help correct the misperception that most people use drugs and [attempts to establish] anti-drug use norms (Botvin 889)”. By allowing the fifth grade students to attend lectures provided by community leaders regarding the actual prevalence of drug use, students will begin to appreciate the fact that all of their peers are not involved with drug use, and it is in fact a small minority of adolescents who are part-taking of these behaviors. Additionally, this message will be further cemented when the students complete their seventh grade health classes where they will either conduct interviews with community activists, or they will conduct research pertaining to the prevalence of drug use in their schools and/or communities. These activities will enable students to obtain a more realistic perspective on the level of drug use in a way that has both high credibility (because they are doing their own research) and that has meaning to them, because the research is being conducted within their own environments (i.e. their schools and/or communities) (7).
Recently, it has been proposed that normative education, which attempts to correct the overestimation the teens have with regards to the prevalence of drug use, is necessary prior to teaching the skills necessary to resist drug use (7). Preliminary research has shown that resistance skills training may be “… ineffective in the absence of conservative social norms against drug use, since if [adolescents perceive the norm] is to use drugs, [they] will be less likely to resist offers of drugs (Botvin 889).” Therefore, the New D.A.R.E. Program must first focus on correcting the adolescents’ perception of the prevalence of drug use, before it attempts to teach them skills necessary to resist social influences and peer pressure.
Improvement 2: Elimination of Harmful Labeling
This New D.A.R.E Program will improve upon the original program in terms of labeling adolescent behavior because the new program requires that all teachers receive special training on the impact of categorizing those who do drugs as being social deviants. This concept is particularly important in avoiding the further alienation of those who already use drugs or intend to use drugs. The original program attempted to “…separate ‘them’ – the [minority] stigmatized group- from ‘us’ (Link 528)” with “us” being the majority of societal members, who are not using drug (8). By making this distinction of the majority being the non-drug users and the minority being the drug users, the original D.A.R.E. instructors attempted to alter the adolescent participants’ overestimation that the majority of teens are doing drugs, and showing them that, in fact, a very small percentage of teens actually do drugs. Despite their attempts, this labeling only served to further alienate the teens that already were doing drugs.
However, by utilizing the concept of normative education and allowing the participants of the New D.A.R.E. Program to listen to lectures from both their teachers as well as leaders in their community regarding the statistics surrounding teen drug use, as well as to participate in their own research, teens will be able to draw their own conclusions regarding the prevalence of drug use in the community. The students will be able to see that indeed the majority of teens do not do drugs and it is really a small minority of them that do (7). This realization will be accomplished without the teachers pointing it out to them by labeling socially deviant behavior.
Improvement 3: Improving the Students’ Trust in Their Instructors
One particular weakness of the original D.A.R.E. program was that it was conducted as a series of lectures by uniformed police officers in a classroom. Research has found that this method is not effective in conveying information as it “… uses instructional methods that are less interactive…and students [tend to] ‘tune out’ an expected message from an authority figure (Botvin 891).” It is thought that students ignore these messages because they have not established a relationship with the police officers, as they have done with many of their teachers, Thus, the students have no trust for the officers, and, by extension, his or her intended messages (5).
However, the New D.A.R.E. Program will work to decrease the students’ perception of the message being delivered by an authority figure by having the classes taught by their teachers, and having the police officers come in as guest lecturers. Woolen et al suggest that if “…what the teacher says, and the way he or she says it, makes it appear to the student that the teacher has the student’s best interest at heart, the level of trust is most likely to increase (Woolen 95).” This method will be more effective in reducing students ignoring the intended messages, as they will now be coming from a person with whom they will be more inclined to trust (5).
Part 2 Conclusion
The New D.A.R.E. Program will attempt to improve upon the original program by addressing three of the key shortcomings of the original. This new program will attempt to lessen the impact of one’s peers and increase the impact of their instructors on one’s decision to not do drugs. It also attempts to improve a student’s trust in his/her relationship with the instructor by having the message delivered through a person he or she is already likely to trust, the classroom teacher. With these improvements, it is very likely that adolescents will come to the realization that drug users are among society’s minorities, and it is not the norm. Additionally, by doing their own research on drug use and by interviewing members of their communities, they will be informed about the negative impact of drug use from people whom they trust and hopefully, make a decision to say no to drugs.
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2. Ennett ST, Tobler NS, Ringwald CL, Flewelling RL. How Effective Is Drug Abuse Resistance Education? A Meta-Analysis of Project DARE Outcome Evaluations. American Journal of Public Health 1994; 84(9): 13941401.
3. Gunnar-Bernburg J, Krohn MD, Rivera CJ. Official Labeling, Criminal Embeddedness, and Subsequent Delinquency: A Longitudinal Test of Labeling Theory. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 2006; 43:67-88.
4. Steinberg L, Fletcher A, Darling N. Parental Monitoring and Peer Influence on Adolescent Substance Use. Pediatrics 1994; 93(6): 1060-1064.
5. Woolen AG, McCroskey JC. Student Trust of Teacher as a Function of Socio-communicative Styles of Teacher and Socio-communicative orientation of Students. Communication Research Reports 1996; 13:94-100.
6. Banfield SR, Richmond VP, McCroskey JC. The Effect of Teacher Misbehaviors on Teacher Credibility and Affect for the Teacher. Communication Education 2006; 55(1):63-72.
7. Botvin gj. Preventing drug abuse in Schools: Social and competence enhancement approaches targeting Individual-Level Etiologic Factors. Addictive Behaviors 2000; 25 (6): 887-897.
8. Link BG, Phelan JC. Stigma and its public health implications. Lancet 2006;367:528-59.

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