Author James Bovard recently published the results of yet another troubling inquiry into Drug Abuse Resistance Education, which Americans know by its acronym - DARE - as in the familiar slogan, "DARE to keep kids off drugs! " Who could quarrel with that worthy goal?
Hardly anyone, to judge by the $700 million spent annually on DARE by federal, state and local governments and by private sources. The recipients of this cash flood are police who teach lessons on drugs to 5 million kids. Politicians love to sign on, and President Clinton is, dare we say it, high on DARE.
But now a consortium of university-affiliated institutes has released research that lets considerable air out of DARE's inflated reputation. The studies show that DARE is "three to four times less effective in every category than school-based drug-prevention programs." The inquiry by Research Triangle found that DARE inhibited drug use by only 3 percent, less than the study's margin of error, and then only for alcohol and tobacco, not for illegal drugs. Not only is DARE ineffective, it "may be taking the place of other, more beneficial drug-prevention curricula."
Parents in numerous communities have questioned whether police should teach social skills and mental health. Bovard and others note children in DARE are encouraged to report on the behavior of parents and relatives and to check their bathroom cabinets. There have been horror stories of children confiding in an officer who won their trust only to be traumatized when that officer arrested their parents or ransacked the home. And, as with all curricula that promise to train attitudes, there are concerns that DARE may prompt interest and involvement in the very behaviors it means to inhibit.
It is ironic that while government pays police to tutor kids in parental surveillance in the name of mental health, the education bureaucracy and pharmaceutical industry are saturating American youngsters with potent drugs in the name of fighting the latest syndromes, attention-deficit disorder, or ADD, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, as hip people now call them.
ADD and ADHD are among those pseudoscientific conditions rife in a nation of broken families and disordered sex roles. Not a disease, ADHD is a term slung at uneasy feelings by people craving control via an illusion of objectivity. Illusion it is, for ADHD cannot easily be confirmed or measured by objective medical tests. But in 1991, the Department of Education labeled it a "handicap" that can be diagnosed by nurses or medical assistants who check off 8 of 14 items on a list, including vague categories such as "impulsivity" or "inattention" (boredom? …