Students and Substances: Social Power in Drug Education

Brown, Joel, H., D’Emidio-Caston, Marianne, & Pollard, John (1997).
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (EEPA), 19, 1, 65-82.

A statewide evaluation of a school-based substance use and drug education program called California Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Education (DATE) was conducted from 1991-1994 for the State Department of Education. Researchers used multiple methods to evaluate DATE programs such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) and Red Ribbon Weeks. Analysis of 143 field interviews with educators and administrators, and 40 student focus groups (grades 5-12) revealed that educators attempted to prevent student substance use by providing a “no-substance-use” message through high fear appeal; offering rewards; and attempting to improve students’ self-esteem by teaching refusal skills. Student interviews indicateprogram dissatisfaction and service-related cognitive dissonance. Random survey results (5,045 grades 7-12 students) showed that over 40% of California’s students were “not at all” influenced by educators or drug education programs, 15% were influenced “a lot” or “completely,” and nearly 70% described a neutral to negative affect toward educators. Regression analyses showed that survey responses did not depend on self-reported substance use, nor the number of drug programs received (among other factors). This large scale, multi-modal evidence suggests that drug, alcohol, and tobacco education programs had no positive influence on a majority of students’ substance-use decisions, and had other effects counter to those intended. This was especially true during the period when youth are faced with substance-use decisions, grades 7-12. Given the similarity of many U.S. drug education programs, student rejection of DATE programs is significant. Results and the need for a conceptual shift in how students are viewed and educated about substances are discussed.

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