Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Students deserve honest debate over drug use

We must turn away from panic and fear.

Mark Spencer lives in Hailey.


What a terrible notion that we would decide as a community to haul our youth into school and force them to urinate in a cup to test for substances that may or may not be causing them harm. The idea that further tightening the straightjacket around our kids will control their behavior and set them on the right course is patently false and rife with logical fallacy. Studies such as a 2003 University of Michigan "Monitoring the Future" survey have shown that there is little statistical difference between student drug use at schools where testing is conducted and those where it is not.

It should also be noted that in 2007, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended against student drug testing on the basis that specific methods for dealing with adolescent abuse excepting punitive measures would be better for kids. Taken in this context, I wonder what the Drug Coalition proposes to do with students who test positive—kick them off the football team or out of the debate club? Suspend them or expel them? Any punitive measure will no doubt include further ostracizing them from the education they desperately need.

We owe our students an honest debate about drug use. We owe them honest answers, which address their fundamental need for experimentation. Engaging in draconian end-point policy not only sets a precedent for invasion of privacy, it rushes headlong into judgment while ignoring the fundamental basis of clear-headed decision-making that lies in a well-educated and informed student—a student who is engaged with adults who offer them respect and freedom to make their own wise decisions. We should spend our time as a community looking for ways to focus on our students' accomplishments, extending them opportunity and uplifting them, not treating them as prisoners in the gulag. We can force our students into drug testing, we can force them out of extracurricular activities and out of school entirely, but we will not force them to choose to stop using drugs. This choice can only be made through personal experience and inner strength, which sometimes includes experimentation with drugs.

The Drug Coalition members would be better serving the students if they spent their time crafting a message that extended respect and understanding to a student's ability to make informed choices based on sound and truthful information, not in perpetuating the 30 years of hysteria and failed drug policy that have failed to produce measurable statistical differences in students' drug use.

As for the notion that the entire community has a drug problem, I would like to note that the entire community is better educated, wealthier and healthier than the national average. We will only succeed in ending drug abuse in our community when we address the root problems that begin the cycle of abuse—poverty, disparity in wealth, lack of opportunity, lack of education and a system that treats addicts as criminals. Despite what the Supreme Court may have ruled (the same Supreme Court that has run roughshod over individual rights and freedoms of recent), we must turn to a drug policy that doesn't begin this cycle on the front steps of our schools. We must turn away from panic and fear, and choose to treat our students with respect and compassion.

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