Saturday, March 25, 2006

Drugs in Schools: Growing Costs and Disparities?

One of my son’s friends joined us for dinner tonight. She attends an urban public school. In the course of our after dinner conversations (or as my kids might sometimes describe them, cross examinations) we discussed several patterns of behavior common among young people in high school. Let’s just say I’m disturbed.

According to this very reliable source, about half the kids in her school have tried drugs, and about one third are using them regularly. When we define drugs, this includes marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. (Yes, cocaine and heroin. I specifically excluded alcohol and tobacco from the definition.)

Where do they get the money? From working, stealing, and parents. Though I salute the kids with jobs, parents might want to do some monitoring about where their paychecks are going.

Where do they get the drugs? She was not sure, but they seem to have no problem. They brag about their drug exploits openly. Apparently, they feel no shame about being a drug user, and they have no fear of being caught. (When I was a cub, it was definitely not cool to use drugs – though nondrinkers were in the minority.)

What do they think of school administration efforts to reduce drug usage? A joke. Mostly they don’t think they mean what they say. The administration lacks credibility. (Could it be because there is no follow-through?)

And how about smoking? Slightly less than half do. But so much for all these anti-tobacco campaigns. I really don’t care if people smoke, but I don’t like to breathe it myself. But I think young people who start smoking are, well, not the brightest crayons in the box.

My young source estimates that about half the students are not using drugs or alcohol or tobacco. I’m told the situation at a parochial high school in town is less problematic for drugs, but alcohol usage is common. (This is much like my rural high school when I was a cub.) A nearby small town school is much the same, with drinking to excess being a common event on weekends, though much less frequent indications of drug use.

Parents: Wake up. This is disturbing. No wonder many of us choose to home school or send our kids to private schools. Query whether there will ever be enough outrage to break the public monopoly on education and allow vouchers or other school choice mechanisms. How long will people be satisfied with an environment where their children are among frequent drug users who, incidentally, are also not exactly going after educational excellence?

Taxpayers: Pay up. Don’t think for a moment that the drug users will internalize their costs. It is going to affect you sooner or later.

I could mention some other groups here, but this is not really about blame. It is about waking up and smelling the coffee in our postmodern world. What is the depth of hopelessness that drives kids to choose drugs instead of life? Note that not all of these kids who choose drugs are poor – many are from affluent families.

I doubt that government programs can change this kind of behavior. Our efforts to enforce drug laws (or lack of them – see “Catch and Release in Atlantic” from the March archives) are apparently not cutting it. One policy change that might help: give parents more choices and allow competition that will permit those who care about excellence (in personal deportment and education) to pursue it. But despite whatever slogans the government may adopt, some children (and adults) will be left behind. This will lead to greater disparities in the social structure. But what is the alternative? I would be interested in hearing any personal insights on this issue.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My 16 yr old son here in NH reports very little drug usage in his high school, and I have little reason to doubt that is the case. Of course, we have a no-nonsense principal who takes that sort of thing very seriously, as well as a town in which there is strong parental involvement in education. I would suspect that NH - perhaps due to the strongly decentralized character of its political structure - fares better than some other states in this regard.