Recently while walking across the parking lot towards a grocery store, I noticed a table had been set up near the entrance.
It held one of those tall jars with a slot cut into its bright red lid, taking donations for the D.A.R.E. program sponsored by the Police Department.
youngish adult, probably a newly arrived college student on the far side of the table went into her spiel about how the D.A.R.E. Program is running out of funds to run its programs.
As she tried to shove a tri-fold pamphlet into my hand with one of hers, she waved her other hand over the jar and beseeched me to please make a contribution. I’ll bet that tactic works real often on the guys her age who are trying to get her phone number.
I interrupted her by saying “Hallelujah” like I was at a revival.
What she couldn’t know about me, a stranger probably older than her mother, is that I’ve already said my thoughts about the D.A.R.E. program when my own sons’ minds were meddled with, back in the early 90s.
I was a Volunteer Mom in the elementary school where my sons and neighbor kids attended.
One morning, I rode my bicycle up to the school and saw the police car parked outside, too close to the bus lane.
The program was still so new that there was no specially marked car for D.A.R.E. I wondered about a cop car at a kid school, even if the lights were not flashing.
I decided to walk into the building anyway, and ended up following about 12 paces behind the police officer as we ambled down the hall.
A cop in full uniform, handcuffs, gun in holster, radio buzz, sets my nerves on High Alert, and really did not make me feel any better that we were in an elementary school surrounded by young students.
When we got to the T in the hall, I went left to the library, and he turned right towards the office.
I told the head Librarian that I would be back in a few minutes, I wanted to see what classroom the officer would be speaking.
It was one of my son’s homerooms, so I started to go in.
The officer stopped me, saying the children might be uncomfortable if a parent were there, and might not ‘speak freely’.
I could see the teacher pushing a table out into the hall, with a stack of papers to grade.
I came to realize this law officer would have about an hour to inform little kids about drugs.
I marched back to the office, but the Assistant said the Principal was at a meeting in another building.
I set up an appointment with him for the next day.
When I got home after my hours in the library, I typed out a letter with my questions, and made a few copies for the principal and school board and D.A.R.E. officer himself.
When I was in the office with the Principal, I shoved a copy of the Student Handbook across the desk at him, open to the page where it said that parents are welcome to visit at any time of the school day, and asked why I had been turned away just because a cop was in the room with my kid? And why did the teacher leave the room—so that the cop could have the kids be a snitch for their family?
I told him I was not at all comfortable with an officer of the law being a teacher about drugs. At the very least, any lessons within the school building should come from a Health teacher or the School Nurse. If there was to be an adult from society, then a druggist or an ER doctor should be the instructor.
To have information about drugs coming from the person who could do an arrest and carry off to jail was the wrong angle to be teaching little kids.
The principal did not get to being in that position because he was awkward with irate mothers. He said the program had been voted on at the School Board, and there wasn’t a whole lot he could do to stop it coming into his school. Being a parent, if I chose to do so, I could pull my kid out of the classroom during the times when D.A.R.E. was being presented. I knew that would not sit right with my sons, they liked knowing what was going on and having something in common with their friends.
The principal did say what he could do would have the teacher stay quietly inside the room, while listening to make sure the D.A.R.E. officer stayed within proper standards.
(later, I heard the teachers were not happy that I had raised a ruckus)
He also said he would mention our meeting and my concerns to other school principals.
I knew the restaurant where the D.A.R.E. officer took his morning coffee break, so I carried the letter to him. There we sat at the counter, talking about the same concerns as I had with the principal. He took the letter and said he would discuss it with his supervisor.
If you were to have asked my sons when they were teenagers about what they had thought about the D.A.R.E. program when they were younger, the word “JOKE” would have come up fairly often. And I noticed that the same students who had been with them in classes all the way through school seemed to decide about smoking and drugs in a way most random. Any lessons foisted upon them in their younger days got shuffled aside by the legal age of maturity.
At my word, the girl across the table seemed to sputter a bit with her details. She probably hadn’t ever heard anybody who was glad to know the program with questionable results would no longer be draining tax coffers.
I explained a bit about how I had written a letter and had discussions with the D.A.R.E. officer back in the days when it was important to me and my own sons.
She gave a lopsided smile and said,
“I’ll bet it made his day”
Well, yeah, he said he and his supervisor got quite a chuckle about how a mother was trying to prevent D.A.R.E. from helping children. Most mothers want their kids to be fully informed, and first in everything.
We were gathering a few bystanders by now. One woman about my age said she had never been comfortable that a cop was in school with her daughter, and a man about 30 said he thought the lessons would have been better coming from the school nurse.
The chirrup could tell she wasn’t gaining ground, so she went over to her chair and sat down.
An older man reached out and dropped a $1 into the jar.
The rest of us went on our way.
When I came back out of the store, the table had been moved a few feet to avoid the sun. The girl didn’t look at me as I passed.
I haven’t provided any links, but if you want to look up D.A.R.E. spending, you can get an eyeful of articles.
Recently, when I found a son’s old and too small by now D.A.R.E. t-shirt, without even asking his permission, I cut it up to use for rags then put the logo part into the trash.
Some memories are easier when put behind us.
~~love and Huggs, Diane
Update 26 Aug 07: Thanks for contributing to this discussion.
Decrepit Old Fool wrote a heads-up for this post, and there are a few more comments over there.