Thousands of public high schools across the country are now eliciting regular and mandatory urine samples to test for drug use among their students. Coined 2007’s version of “Just Say No,” supporters claim it will be effective in curbing the currently high rate of illegal drug and alcohol use by U.S. students.
It is interesting to me that our public schools, who are currently not even performing their primary function adequately, would assume an additional and arguably unrelated task in the monitoring of the personal choices and habits of their students.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 24 percent of the nation’s high school seniors performed at or above proficient in state standardized tests measuring ability in reading and writing. Despite this, policymakers have somehow decided that even more resources should be steered away from education in schools, and more toward parenting.
Even though the Government Accountability Office released the results of a number of studies that indicated how futile the federal government’s previous attempts to curb youth drug use have been, the Bush administration has increased funding for this new effort 400% between 2003 and 2006. The administration requested $17.9 million for this effort in fiscal year 2008.
Apparently, the failure of the $1.8 billion D.A.R.E. program that began in 1983 — whose effects were non-existent according to the most recently released study — has not provided enough indication to the federal government of the ineffectuality of asserting undue authority over the life and business of the individual. Even the unintended consequences of D.A.R.E. appear to have had little effect on the future decisions of the administration in its youth drug policy. One such consequence is the irony-laden notion that the campaign may in fact have successfully promoted the perception that drug use is more common than it actually is, thereby normalizing the habit.
In addition to being a supreme misuse — and indeed waste — of billions in tax revenues, the “War on Drugs” media campaign is also a revealing case in point for the core ideological divide between so-called liberals and conservatives. Despite the notions of social justice and equal opportunity that many associate with liberalism, the core of this ideology — uninvited governmental intervention — tends too often to be a rather pessimistic view of the general public. It seems to doubt their ability to exercise reason and self-control.
In essence, they think they are smarter than you are. This notion is what prompts the endorsement of programs like social security (they don’t trust you to save for yourself), the banning of trans-fats (they don’t trust you to make healthy dining choices) and the overall continued augmentation of the welfare state. This includes, of course, the launch of a multi-million dollar campaign that attempts to replace the responsibility of the individual for thinking and the parent for parenting.
The issue of drug use in our society is not one of education, and certainly not the result of the lack of fear from being caught. The prevalence of drug use may really reflect a much larger trend in our society. This society has lessened the demand for personal responsibility and civil accountability. More so, it has diminished the role of parents to instill in their children the values that are important for success in adulthood and the world.
It is a difficult cycle to reverse. The enlargement of public measures that undertake responsibilities like parenting, which were formerly the prerogative of the parents, only further conveys that their own efforts in these areas are unnecessary and being done for them. This in turn places a larger burden on the state to carry out these responsibilities effectively — which we have seen cannot be done — and thus grows the ultimate problem.