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Drug Education


Like so many other drug education programs, Quest is a feelings-based program operating on the dubious assumption that morality is a by-product of "feeling good about yourself." Critics of the feelings based therapeutic approach claim that while it may be useful in therapy, it has no place in drug education.


Dr. William Coulson is a distinguished-looking man in is his late fifties, whose mild-mannered affability is complemented by a sophisticated sense of humor. Coulson was the founding director of the once prestigious Center for Studies of the Person and coeditor of an important series of texts on humanistic education. He now directs a much smaller organization known as the Research Council on Ethnopsychology. In addition to his research and writing activities, Dr. Coulson occasionally plays the trombone in the family jazz band he and his wife, Jeannie, formed years ago. The other members of the band are their seven children, although now that the children are grown, the performances are less frequent. Coulson is also a talented speaker who is much in demand. He has been known to enliven his already lively talks with a horn solo.

Lately Dr. Coulson's talks to various college and parent groups have centered on the theme of apology. He wants to apologize for himself and for several of his former colleagues who, having passed away, are unable to apologize for themselves. Dr. Coulson may be described as the affective educator who came in from the cold. The reasons for his defection make for an interesting story, and they also reveal why drug education in America got off to a bad start.

In the 1960s and 1970s Coulson was one of the leading figures in what came to be known as the human potential movement a loose alliance of psychologists and educators interested in expanding human possibilities by encouraging greater self-awareness. One of the chief goals of human potential psychology was to help individuals "get in touch" with their feelings, or to use the psychological term, with their "affective" side thus the term "affective education." Dr. Coulson was a colleague of both Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, the two men who are generally credited with starting the movement. Coulson, in fact, was considered to be the most likely successor to Rogers. In collaboration with Rogers he edited books on different facets of affective education, ran workshops and seminars, and helped to direct some of the movement's key organizations.

But Coulson began to have second thoughts about the movement, and by the middle of the seventies he had parted company with it. He was disturbed by the large number of casualties the movement seemed to produce in its wake: irresponsible experimentation with drugs and sex, broken relationships, and emotional disorders. In particular he became alarmed at the results that occurred when "humanistic" ideas were translated into school curriculums.

The drug education curriculums were especially distressing. Many, if not most of them, were modeled on the nondirective pattern that had been developed at the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in La Jolla, California, under the leadership of Carl Rogers. Like other human potential offshoots such as the encounter group, these programs relied heavily on group discussion of feelings a process that had come to be known simply as "the group experience." But when, beginning in the mid-seventies, research on the effectiveness of such programs was conducted, the news was not good.

In 1976 at Stanford University, Dr. Richard Blum and his research associates published the results of a four-year study of an "affective" drug program called Decide. The students in the program were compared with a control group that received no drug education. Blum had expected the study would favor the affective program, but to his surprise it was the control group that showed the most resistance to drugs. Those receiving affective education used alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana sooner than the controls and they used drugs more extensively.

Dr. Blum found much the same results in a similar study of Decide in 1978. In the 1980s, when other affective drug prevention programs such as Smart, Here's Looking at You, and Quest were evaluated by other researchers, the results were almost identical: these drug education programs increased drug use.

The studies came as no surprise to Coulson. He already knew from personal experience that the approach pioneered at La Jolla and at the celebrated Esalen institute was designed to encourage experimentation, not to prevent it. In fact, the group experience was an almost sure-fire formula for disrupting previously stable lives. The group encounters had led to a string of divorces and sex scandals and not infrequently to episodes of psychological disturbance for the participants. The leaders encountered problems of their own. One of Coulson's colleagues even managed to actualize himself into prison.

One story Coulson tells is representative. When Rasa Gustaitis, a free-lance journalist, visited Esalen in the late sixties, she had a contract with Macmillan publishers for a book to be titled Turning On Without Drugs. But the group experience changed all that:

Once she arrived at Esalen Institute, the first thing that happened was to be drawn into a "milling-around" exercise. Next she was placed in a circle to talk about feelings. Resistant at first, she finally yielded. The next day she took LSD. So when Macmillan published her book in 1969, it needed a different title. Turning On Without Drugs became, simply, Turning On.

Coulson was not the only one to have reservations about the human potential movement. Years before Coulson's defection, Abraham Maslow had expressed grave misgivings about the whole enterprise. Maslow's name is one of the most revered in psychology. Unlike other psychologists, he concentrated his studies not on pathology but on health. His interest was in human potential and the capacity for growth. Along with Rogers he had opened up a new path in psychology what came to be known as "the Third Force" (the two other "forces" are Freudian psychology and behavioral psychology).

Yet, unknown to most of his followers, Maslow had, in the years before his death, repudiated much of the agenda connected with his name. In a journal entry dated May 5, 1968, he asks:

Who should teach whom? Youngsters teach the elders or vice versa? It got me in a conflict about my education theory. I've been in continuous conflict for a long time over this, over Esalen-type, orgiastic, Dionysian-type education.

Maslow was concerned that "my Jewish heritage of books and libraries" was in jeopardy from the anti-intellectualism of human potential psychology. He was afraid that his own daughters were being harmed by humanistic education. To have had daughters "made the psychology of the time look trivial and totally inadequate," he wrote in his journal.

In the preface to the second edition of Motivation and Personality, he was more pointed. Self-actualization, he wrote, was not a concept to be applied to children:

In Chapter 11 on self-actualization I have removed one source of confusion by confining the concept very definitely to older people. By the criteria I used, self-actualization does not occur in young people ... [they have not] learned how to be patient; nor have they learned enough about evil in themselves and others ... nor have they generally become knowledgeable and educated enough to open the possibility of becoming wise; nor have they generally acquired enough courage to be unpopular, to be unashamed about being openly virtuous, etc.

Dr. Coulson's own disaffection began after the failure of the Educational Innovation Project, an experiment in sensitizing an entire school system. Operated by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the system included fifty-nine schools in the Los Angeles area. The nuns had responded to an article in which Carl Rogers had, in effect, advertised for a school system that would let him put his educational theories into action.

At first the experiment seemed promising. An elementary school teacher wrote:

When I got back from the first weekend, I simply could not teach. There were too many things going on in me. So I told my children about my experience and tried to convey something of the spirit of the thing. They were fascinated and some of them even wept as I told them about it. Since then the class relationships have been so much better. They see me as a person and I see them as persons. They come to me much more often individually. They come to me for hugs and love. It is just fabulous what has happened in our class.

One of the teachers at Immaculate Heart College prepared a written announcement for her students which contained the following:

Some of you might be frightened by this type of course. Please feel free to express this or any other reaction you may have enroute. I myself am apprehensive on many scores but I feel the risk is worth taking. How about you?

But the final result of month after month of in-depth sharing was quite different. Deep divisions emerged between parents and teachers. The sisters, who had initially been enthusiastic about revitalizing their schools, became absorbed with questions of self-actualization. Teaching took a back seat. Many lost their faith as well. The order secularized itself and broke its ties with the Catholic Church. The schools were shut down. Coulson, who was project coordinator, later wrote, "When we started ... . there were six hundred nuns and fifty-nine schools ... Now, four years later, as I write, a year following the formal completion of the project there are two schools left and no nuns."

One would have to go back to seventeenth-century France and the appearance of the devils in the convent at Loudun to find a more radical transformation of a group of sisters. Even Rogers, who considered turmoil a necessary accompaniment of growth, was dismayed. "Why did I ever write that crazy plan?" he later asked colleagues. It was the beginning of what he was eventually to call "a pattern of failure."

At the heart of the plan was the concept of the therapeutic classroom. in the forties and fifties Rogers had pioneered the client-centered method of therapy, a technique that was highly regarded and widely used. As early as 1955 he began to think that it could be successfully transplanted into schools.

Rogers's therapeutic approach was based on the assumption that each person has two selves, a real self and a false self, which is constructed in response to social expectations. The real self, which is basically good and trustworthy, tends to be repressed but can be released under certain conditions. What conditions? In therapy, "unconditional positive regard a sort of complete acceptance is the main ingredient. Given that climate, clients will be able to take the risks necessary to growth. But complete acceptance necessitated a second principle: Therapists must be nonjudgmental about their clients' values and behaviors. (It was an idea that struck a chord outside of therapeutic circles. Much of our current talk about "not imposing values" is simply a borrowing of Rogers's therapeutic vocabulary.) What then is the therapist's role? In brief, to let the client find his own directions. Rogers, like Maslow, believed in the existence of natural healthy instincts which would point each individual in the right direction. What that direction was to be was not for the therapist to say. Hence, client-centered therapy's other name "nondirective counseling."

Could these ideas be applied to teaching? Rogers and Coulson thought so. Between 1968 and 1974 they edited a series of seventeen books for C. E. Merrill Publishing Company, most of them about nondirective teaching. The most important of these was Rogers's own Freedom to Learn, a book that was soon selling on the order of 150,000 copies per year.

In a sense, the book was not really about teaching at all. Not in any traditional sense. For Rogers the idea of instructing or teaching held little appeal. Instead, Freedom to Learn was a guidebook for turning teachers into facilitators. The model for the classroom was the sensitivity group:

The intensive group or "workshop" group usually consists of ten to fifteen persons and a facilitator or leader. It is relatively unstructured, providing a climate of maximum freedom for personal expression, exploration, of feelings, and interpersonal communication ... Individuals come to know themselves and each other more fully ... the climate of openness, risk-taking, and honesty generates trust, which enables the person to recognize and change self-defeating attitudes, test out and adopt more innovative and constructive behaviors.

Rogers was largely successful in getting his ideas across at least, that is my impression after twenty years of teaching future teachers. They view their job as a therapeutic one: to facilitate self-expression, to enhance self-esteem, to be more open and nonjudgmental. In short, to be more like therapists. They may, change their minds about it later on, but this seems to be the initial motivation. I think I understand how they feel. Those were exactly my sentiments at the time I started teaching, and in those days Rogers's theories were like scripture to me.

But Rogers himself was taken aback by the reverence with which his ideas were treated: "When I write up my theories, at least I try to make it clear that they're tentative ... But when they get into textbooks, they sound like they came down on tablets from Mount Sinai . . ." He had two other misgivings. First, he didn't think the group experience should be forced on anyone. Second, in 1973, perhaps recalling the Immaculate Heart debacle, he concluded that it was never appropriate for children to participate in classroom encounter groups. Dr. Coulson, who knew the family well, observes that Rogers did not practice nondirectiveness with his own children and grandchildren.

As with Maslow, Rogers's misgivings were either unknown to his followers or ignored by them. His theories had already stimulated what Coulson calls a "wild psychologizing" among curriculum writers. The "affective approach," as Rogers's brand of education came to be called, seemed the answer to every educational problem.

Including Drug Education

The largest independent drug education program in the United States is called Quest. Quest is described in a promotional brochure as a "non-profit educational organization founded in 1975 whose mission is to 'create a world that cares deeply about its young people.' " According to the organization's literature, its Skills for Living program has been installed in "more than 2000 school systems in 47 states and seven countries," while its skills for Adolescence program is in use in "more than 12,000 communities and schools throughout the world." Quest, like many of the other drug prevention programs developed in the seventies and early eighties Positive Action, Project Charlie, Here's Looking at You, Me-ology, Values & Choices is modeled on Rogers's therapeutic education scheme. In fact, Howard Kirschenbaum, the author of the first Quest program, Skills for Living, is also the author of an adulatory biography of Carl Rogers.

Group leaders or "facilitators" of the Quest program are required to attend a three-day workshop which is basically a crash course in the techniques of client-centered therapy. The advice they receive is similar to the advice a fledgling therapist might receive before meeting his first client:

Paraphrase. ("So, you've had a similar experience.")

Reflect feelings. ("I can see that really annoys you.")

Watch advising, evaluating, or moralizing.

Remind yourself you're asking for opinions; everyone has a right to his or her own.

Ask nonjudgmental questions to promote further thinking.

Express your own feelings.

Push their risk levels gently.

Trust the process.

The language is so sensitive and democratic that a casual observer might wonder why there is any fuss over this kind of approach. But there is enough of a fuss to divide school districts all over the country into warring factions.

Critics of the therapeutic approach claim that while it may be useful in therapy, it has no place in drug education. Coulson points out that the cardinal rule of the clinic, "I will never censor you nor must you censor yourself," should not apply in schools, especially when the topic is drug taking. On the subject of drugs and other life-and-death issues, children need "authoritative guidance," says Coulson, not techniques designed to explore options and feelings. As Coulson points out, the teachers' guides for these various programs invariably urge the instructor to conduct discussions "free of right and wrong answers." Students, says Coulson, will gain the impression that the rightness or wrongness of drug use is a subjective matter. This, he claims, is a highly irresponsible message especially in view of the fact that the law does not consider drug use to lie in the subjective realm.

Coulson, in turn, has been accused of being a right-wing fundamentalist, of lying about his credentials, and of misrepresenting his ties with Rogers and Maslow. Apparently, when it comes to defending their own programs, not even affective educators can hope to be consistently nonjudgmental. And besides, they like what they do. Teachers in these programs become what Rogers had hoped they would become, -neutral facilitators. "Try not to lecture," cautions one teachers' guide; "Practice using the skills of facilitation ... listening and processing," prompts another.

In exchange for this abdication of authority, teachers get to teach classes that are fairly popular. Quest, Project Charlie, Here's Looking at You, and Me-ology all utilize games and activities that are "fun" and "exciting" "a really good time," as one Project Charlie coordinator put it. In addition, the therapeutic enterprise has attractions of its own. To be an encourager of self-discovery, growth, and personal liberation is no small thing.

What is the role of parents in this scheme? Parents have been the most vociferous opponents of affective education, and little wonder. If teachers are instructed to be nondirective, parents are expected to recede even farther into the background. After all, from the viewpoint of human potential psychology, they are the largest part of the problem. Consequently, it wasn't long before the idea of the teacher as therapist was followed by the idea of the parent as therapist. The chief exponent of the idea was Thomas Gordon, a student of Rogers, who, in a book tided Parent Effectiveness Training, urged the techniques of therapeutic listening and nonjudgmentalism on parents. The idea spread rapidly among therapists, educators, and parents as Parent Effectiveness workshops sprang up across the country. Coulson sums up the mood of the time this way: "We were to be the first generation of parents not to oppress our kids."

Drug educators were eager to press the point. Helping Youth Decide, a program targeted at parents, reminds them, "Remember that these techniques may backfire if you preach. This approach is designed to help youth explore and develop their own values and morals. . ." Curriculum developers seem eager that children also realize the limited nature of the role their parents ideally should play. "The Family," says one Quest worksheet in headline letters, "Should Be Like an Elephant All Ears." Unfortunately, of course, most parents haven't been working on their therapeutic skills, and Quest takes note of this, too. The workbooks contain many scenarios of family conflict for students to discuss and role-play. But, as a mother of a Quest student observes, "It seemed as if the parents were always put in a bad light. The story would be about a father and his son, say; and the father was always overbearing, always too strict, always unfair."

This is rather standard fare in the health education curriculum. "You must decide for yourself which role to adopt," says one typical high school text. Another advises: "A major influence on you has been the attitudes and behaviors of each of your parents. . . . . You have probably learned some fairly traditional ideas ... Many believe that these traditional attitudes hinder growth and development of a person because they limit possibilities" "Only you can judge," counsels another text.

Any parent who has traditional ideas about right and wrong and the conduct of family life is likely to suffer by comparison with facilitative teachers. "Your parents don't understand you, but we do" seems to be an implicit message in the affective classroom. And of course, it's a message that sits well with the average youngster. Parents of an eight-year-old boy in Washington State asked the child what Quest meant to him. They learned it meant "choosing for himself no matter what his parents might say."

But if you don't have to listen to your parents and teachers, whom should you listen to? The answer given by affective educators is fairly consistent on this point "yourself. " What part of yourself? The emotional part. "This evocation of feeling is the most prominent feature in every program I reviewed," writes Coulson of his work as a technical adviser to the U.S. Department of Education. The Quest student workbooks contain several examples. In one exercise titled "Emotion Clock," students keep track of their feelings over a twenty-four-hour period. Another is called "My Emotions" and asks students to keep a record of "everything that makes you feel good or uncomfortable for one day." "I'm Comfortable" asks students to complete sentences such as "It's easy to share my feelings with others when they _." Other activities involve drawing a "Rainbow of Feelings" and a "Mood Continuum." This emphasis on self-affirmation even extends to the teachers. In a training session for one program, Coulson observed teachers drawing rainbows and writing the following caption: "The most wonderful thing in the world." He asked, "What do you say it is, this most wonderful thing in the world?" "The answer," Coulson reports, "was unanimous. 'Me!'" Were they putting him on? I doubt it. Not too long ago, when seniors at Boston College's School of Education had to choose a class song for graduation, they came up with Whitney Houston's hit "The Greatest Love of All"- a song about learning to love yourself.

One interesting consequence of all the "self talk" in drug education is that there is relatively little said about drugs themselves. Of his visit to a San Diego program, Coulson remarks, "There was no talk of drugs in the session I observed and I was told that, by design, there would be none till the last three weeks of the course." Out of a total of seven units, Quest has only one that deals with any factual information on drugs. Coulson concludes, "The subject is not drugs but selves."

On the other hand, defenders of Quest and similar curriculums say this is exactly the point. Quest is part of a larger educational effort which may be called "the self-esteem movement." In 1987 California created a "Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem," which concluded that "the lack of self-esteem is central to most personal and social ills plaguing our state and nation as we approach the end of the 20th century." Other states followed suit and created their own task forces. Soon there was a National Council for Self-Esteem and a Foundation for Self-Esteem. The National Education Association tells its 2 million member teachers that schools , "must structure self-esteem building into the curriculum." After an extensive examination of teacher education programs, writer and researcher Rita Kramer concluded that elementary teachers "are being taught to concern themselves with children's feelings of self worth and not with the worth of hard work ."

Chester Finn, who served as assistant secretary of education, observes that "near-magical powers" are ascribed to self-esteem. For example, the California Task Force says self-esteem "inoculates us against the lures of crime, violence, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, child abuse, chronic welfare dependency, and educational failure." From this viewpoint, bad choices and destructive behaviors such as drug taking are a result of low self-esteem. If schools would go to work on raising self-esteem, the other problems would take care of themselves. By this reasoning, it makes sense to devote the greater part of a drug education curriculum to cultivating feelings and self-awareness. This, of course, is really just a reworking of Rogers's idea that the true self is inherently good and trustworthy and needs only to be liberated. Students thus liberated will, in the words of the Quest brochure, be able to make "wise and healthy decisions."

But there are some problems with this approach. Real self-esteem is a by-product of real learning and achievement. We feel good about ourselves because we've done something good or worthy. Most self-esteem-based curriculums, however, don't make any connection between self-esteem and achievement or between self-esteem and behavior. People are just simply good as they are. A central message of Quest and similar programs is "You're fine as you are." But, if that's so, there is no need for moral improvement or self-betterment. Being completely self-accepting is not exactly a formula for responsible behavior. Some of recent history's worst scoundrels Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega seem to have been quite self-satisfied. The trouble with such people is not that they lack self-esteem but that they feel themselves accountable to no outside law or standard. It's not even necessary to consult history books. Any pimp, con artist, or drug pusher will prove the point. As a rule, they enjoy what they do and seem to have few, if any, self-doubts.

It is important to have self-esteem but for the right reasons. The concept of it that is currently fashionable in education circles, however, is extraordinarily naive. When combined with equally simplistic notions about choices, it can easily lead a youngster to the conclusion that his choices can never be wrong. In Coulson's words, "if I'm really quite wonderful ... then whatever I decide to do must be wonderful, too." Within the limited framework of affective education, it would be a reasonable conclusion to make. In the end everything is subjective. There are no standards outside the self to which to repair -no "right or wrong answers." One's feelings must be one's guide.

Ideas of this sort are understandably novel and intoxicating to an inexperienced youngster, but why they should be considered so by teachers is another question. Both Quest and Here's Looking at You, the two largest programs, are seventeen years old. Carl Rogers's Freedom to Learn was published twenty-two years ago. At a drug education fair a few years ago, a representative of Decide began her presentation with, "I would like to introduce you to an exciting and innovative drug education program." But, as Coulson comments, "the time when it was 'innovative' is long gone."

These programs are by now more "establishment" than innovative. They build on a conceptual framework that was introduced in the sixties and they share much of the spirit of the sixties. The emphasis on spontaneity, self-expression, rejection of authority, and emotionalism that one finds in these programs should be familiar to anyone who grew up in that decade. The quest for the true inner self which is the heart of Rogerian therapy was also the heart of the sixties youth revolt.

And this inner quest was at the heart of the explosion in drug use that began in the sixties. As psychologist Joseph Adelson writes, "No one will want to argue that the antinornian outlook ,caused' the [present] drug epidemic; but there is little question that it rationalized its early stages and beyond that helped undo the immune system which had kept drugs and much else at bay." One good reason to question curriculums of the Quest variety is that the philosophy that inspires them seems indistinguishable from the philosophy that inspired the original outbreak of wide-scale drug experimentation. That philosophy didn't prevent drug use then; why suppose it will prevent it now?

Many curriculum writers seem to be stuck in that earlier era. Thus, in Health Education: The Search for Values, a book still marketed to drug and sex educators, the reader is invited to contemplate the wonders of risk taking: "By risk taking we mean the chance one often takes when one ventures out of one's pattern of behavior ... It is safe to say that regardless of the risk involved, the greatest risk would come from not exercising the opportunity to risk and possibly to grow from it."

For an overly cautious adult with firmly established patterns of behavior and an adult's awareness of consequences, this might be advice worth considering. But where do educators get the right to take risks with other people's children? Research on the group method shows that even with adults it is a hazardous undertaking capable of disrupting healthy as well as unhealthy controls. This is the case even when groups are run by trained therapists. But Quest facilitators have only three days of training. An additional problem is pointed out by Dr. Harold Voth, chief psychiatrist at the Veterans Hospital in Topeka. He writes, "There is no assurance that all teachers are free of psychopathology. Exposing the child to the broad issues introduced by the Quest exercises and orchestrated by teachers of unknown mental health and stability places the child in a position of great risk." Shortly after reading Dr. Voth's comments, I came across a news item about Pamela Smart, the New Hampshire teacher who was convicted of having seduced three of her students into murdering her husband. Parents of two of the boys had initiated a suit against the school administration which "knew or should have known that Smart had formed 'inappropriate relationships' with the boys in a drug and alcohol awareness program she led." An extreme case? Of course. But it does suggest that the damage a disturbed individual can do is greatly magnified in the feeling-centered classroom. And it points to a related and more widespread problem.

A far more common type than the deviant teacher is the deviant student the one who takes drugs, breaks the law, engages in early and promiscuous sex. One by-product of affective drug education is that it gives the users and risk takers in the class an undue influence one they wouldn't normally have. In the normal course of events "traditionalists"- nonusers avoid the users. They choose their friends from among peers like themselves and shy away from the others. The group process, however, throws users and nonusers together in intimate contact in a way that the traditional classroom does not. And in the upside-down world of in-depth sharing, the nonuser finds himself at a disadvantage. Why? Because the influence in such groups flows from user to abstainer. A 1976 study of teenage smokers conducted by the research team of Yankelovich, Skelly, and White suggests why:

The profile of the teen-age girl smoker counters the image of a socially ill-at-ease youngster turning to cigarettes as a means of being thought of as more sophisticated or as a needed prop for handling social situations. Instead, it is the teen-age girl smoker who is at ease socially, very put together, and with full confidence in herself. Parties and social gatherings are her metier.

The smokers were also far more likely to use marijuana, binge-drink, and be sexually experienced. The nonjudgmental classroom discussion is tailor-made for youngsters like these, and they tend to set the tone. In one sense they are models of what such classes are meant to encourage. They are risk takers par excellence, and they have no trouble talking about their feelings and experiences. To top it off, they are often quite entertaining. Considering that the other students are duty bound, as one guidebook puts it, "to demonstrate tolerance for each other's points of view," the users have all the advantages.

Coulson observes:

Under this induction, drugs become no longer something on the edge of an inexperienced student's awareness, no longer a report-on-the-evening-news-but-personally-unthinkable. Having been "energized" (Quest's term) by one psychological classroom exercise and another and then placed in a circle for heart-to-heart discussion with peers; having exchanged feelings and found that, deep down, the users among his classmates are persons with feelings, too, the inexperienced student will be said to have "grown and in the process lost the fear of offending against the prohibitions of his home and the commandments of his church.

In 1978 and 1985 Professor Stephen Jurs at the University of Toledo was contracted by Quest to test the results of its programs. He found that program participation was followed by an increase in drug experimentation. Quest did not publish the results, but instead in 1988 began a new study of its Skills for Adolescence program. This study was not published either, but Dr. Coulson was able to obtain a Quest research memorandum on the preliminary findings. The study compared Quest students to a control group on smoking, marijuana/hashish use, cocaine/crack use, and alcohol use. In all cases the Quest group showed greater increases than the controls, who either remained "stable" or decreased their use. For cigarette smokers there was a "much greater increase," and for alcohol, a "striking increase." In addition, the Quest students showed a lower perception of risk; they had acquired a more relaxed attitude toward drug use. The results, states the memorandum, are "not what Quest would like to see."

Four years prior to this discouraging report, Howard Kirschenbaum, co-author of the best-selling book Values Clarification and author of the initial Quest curriculum, had spoken in glowing terms of the promise of Quest before the 1984 Convention of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development:

We have a program called the Quest program ... It's now being used and taught to 300,000 high school students a year in this country: 300,000! It's a humanistic education curriculum ... it has lots of values clarification in it ... lots of communication skills ... lots of self-talk . . . it's ... a really fine synthesis of alive humanistic education.

In another part of his speech to the delegates, Kirschenbaum explained that terminology isn't important: ". . . humanistic education, holistic education, experiential education, whatever we may call it ... We've got to connect them with the mainline concerns of the average American." Moreover, added Kirschenbaum, "I think we need to tie in humanistic education to whatever current fads or movements are taking place."

Quest's audience is now estimated to be about 2 million students per year, and it is just one of many humanistic drug education programs. But all the evidence is that humanistic education, holistic education-"whatever we may call it"- doesn't work. The failure of these programs is mirrored in the statistics. While educators have been busy helping youth to explore values and decide for themselves, the drug problem has continued unabated.

Nearly six out of ten high school seniors say they have used illegal drugs (not including alcohol ).

The percentage of children using drugs by the sixth grade has tripled since 1975.

One in fifteen high school senior boys has used steroids.

One in twelve high school students admits to using LSD.

More than half of high school seniors say they get drunk at least once a month. Two out of five get drunk at least once a week.

The average age of first alcohol use has dropped to 12.3 years.

A 1985 study showed that ten times as many twelve-year-old girls were smoking in comparison to a decade earlier.

In 1988 the U.S. Department of Education published a guide to selecting drug prevention curriculums. Consumers, it says, should watch for "outdated theories" and should avoid curriculums that emphasize "open-ended decision making," "values clarification," and "therapeutic educational strategies." Instead, curriculums should "maintain adult authority in the classroom ... A classroom is not a 'bull session' and real damage can be done when teachers attempt to curry students' favor by revealing their own past indiscretions." Moreover, the report continues, "it is important that these choices [children's] be informed by parental and community standards of right and wrong, and by respect for the law ... Decision making is never value free, nor should it rely on the students' personal good instincts." The cautionary section concludes: ". . . if a curriculum has only minimal material on substance abuse, and is mainly a social skills or self-esteem package, then it is not a real prevention curriculum."

To its credit Quest has responded to criticisms of this sort with revisions that have made its programs less affective and more directive. It has stopped publishing the Skills for Living program developed by Howard Kirschenbaum, and it now insists that it is not a values clarification program. In its current programs it balances decision-making exercises with a "no use" stance toward drugs, and it supplements self-esteem activities with a fist of school service projects. Quest also invites family and community participation in its program.

Quest is by no means the worst of the drug education programs. I have focused on it because it is the largest program and also because of its clear historical link to the human potential movement. Despite its attempts to distance itself from its past, however, Quest remains a feelings-based program. it still operates on the dubious assumption that morality is a by-product of "feeling good about yourself," and it still advertises itself as a child-centered approach. If Quest's A Guide to Leading Parent Meetings is a reliable indicator, even the parent meetings are conducted on the child-centered model. One introductory exercise asks parents to "group together according to their favorite flavor of ice cream." In other sessions parents are expected to play out the same juvenile exercises assigned to their children. The laudable parts of the Quest message (e.g., "parents are still the authorities in their households") tend to be undercut by this compulsion to keep things on the level of "have a nice day."

On the elementary school level this commitment to niceness and fun activities is exemplified by the Quest mascot, a stuffed animal named Q-Bear ("his soft fur and warm smile make him great for hugs") who is used to lead children through the course activities. Quest is not alone in this Toys "R" Us approach to education. Other widely marketed life-skills programs feature similar animal friends. In DUSO (Developing Understanding of Self and Others) Duso the Dolphin leads children through 41guided fantasy activities." Not to be outdone, the PUMSY program features Pumsy, "a loveable young dragon" puppet who helps children overcome "negative self-talk' " and learn "positive thinking skills." The Department of Education's guide to prevention curricula displays considerable charity when it notes that over-reliance on such "props" and "gimmicks" "may trivialize the message."

Defenders of Quest who point to the various skills it attempts to develop listening skills, communication skills, decision-making skills miss a larger point. These skills are presented in the context of a cultural vacuum. Except for references to popular culture (students read an article by Bill Cosby), the usual sources of important values such as myth, religion, history, and literature are altogether absent. Quest is a life-skills program that offers no profound or inspiring conception of life. What's more, the considerable time required to implement the extensive Quest curriculum leaves that much less time for the academic subjects that might acquaint students with sources of value other than the self.

What does work? One promising approach is to have drug education presented by authoritative models. For example, the DARE program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) puts a police officer in each classroom for seventeen one-hour sessions. In class the officers teach students how to refuse drugs and how to handle peer pressure. At recess they spend time getting to know children on an individual basis. Above all, they act as positive role models.

Here is a Michigan teacher describing the effect of the DARE program on his fifth-grade class:

The children loved these police officers and respected their wisdom ... the kids knew he [Officer Norris] cared about them and that they could trust him. By the time he was done, my students thought that anyone using drugs was ignorant, and, to use their term, "scum." My point is that Al Norris changed the norms within our school. He gave drug use the disreputable and inacceptable reputation it deserves. He truly set the standards for behavior amongst my students.

Unfortunately, not all officers are as effective as Officer Norris. The problem is that DARE insists on mixing authoritative guidance with decision making, self-esteem exercises, and other techniques of therapeutic education. Once again, we have an example of a program in which some elements work to undermine others. Research on the effectiveness of DARE shows only modest positive effects.

In any event, drug use prevention is not simply a matter of developing good curriculums. As the Department of Education guide points out, a more important factor is the school's atmosphere of expectations: "A strong school policy against substance abuse clearly articulated, consistently enforced, and broadly communicated is the foundation upon which any program should be built."

Among the more effective programs studied by Coulson and his team is one called Building Drug Free Schools. Not a particularly catchy tide as prevention programs go, but it's one program that seems to live up to its billing. Northside High School in Atlanta, at one time known to its students as "Fantasy Island," used the program to rid itself of a serious drug problem and dramatically improved academic achievement as well.

Asked to describe his "program," principal Bill Rudolph replies, "that's very difficult to do because we don't really have a 'drug and alcohol program' here. What we have is a school that has very, very clear expectations for its students; and among those expectations is that they not break the law nor come to school under the influence of alcohol and drugs .... But it also means some more important things. It means you go to class, you go on time, you try hard; it means that you're going to get two to three hours of homework every night. It means that we're going to put you in the most challenging courses that we can find for you. ... We don't really have a 'drug program' here. What we're having is school, and we think what we're having is quality education, which precludes drug use."

Other successful programs create a similar climate of expectations. One such example, cited in Schools Without Drugs, a Department of Education publication, is Samuel Gompers Vocational-Technical High in the South Bronx. According to a 1977 New York Times article, students at Gompers smoked marijuana and sold drugs inside the building with the result that the police had to be called daily. At that time Gompers had a reputation as a "war zone." In 1979 a new principal, Victor Herbert, took steps to turn the school around:

He established a drug awareness program for teachers, students, and parents.

He stationed security guards and faculty outside bathrooms and organized "hall sweeps" in the middle of class periods. Students were no longer allowed to leave school during lunchtime.

In cooperation with the police, Herbert arranged for the same two officers to respond to all calls from Gompers. These officers came to know the students and were eventually trusted by them.

He persuaded IBM to hire students for after-school and summer work. Students had to be drug-free to participate.

As a result of this no-nonsense policy, Gompers became virtually drug-free. In 1986, the year the Department of Education conducted its survey of exemplary schools, there were no known incidents of Gompers students using drugs or alcohol in school or on school grounds.

The most successful schools don't limit themselves to providing drug education courses. Their first priority is to create a drug-free environment and a sense of pride in achieving and maintaining a drug-free school. Such schools also take academics seriously and assign significant amounts of homework. In addition, they emphasize extracurricular activities. The attempt is to create a school atmosphere rather than a group therapy atmosphere. The focus is on science, history, art class, and the marching band rather than on the self. Beyond that, such schools seek to enlist the help of families, businesses, police, and other groups in the community.

This combination of high expectations, serious purpose, and attention to the total environment requires considerably more work than having students sit in circles and talk about their feelings; it does, however, have the distinct advantage of making a real difference in the fives of children.



Kilpatrick, William. "Drug Education." Chapter 2 in Why Johnny Can't Tell Right from Wrong. edited by J.H. Clarke, (New York: A Touchstone Book, 1992), 30-51.

Reprinted by permission of William Kilpatrick.

The Author

kilpatrick1kilpatrickWilliam K. Kilpatrick is Professor Emeritus of Education at Boston College and the author of: Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West, Great Lessons in Virtue and Character: A Treasury of Classic Animal Stories, Books that Build Character: A Guide to Teaching your Child Moral Values Through Stories and Why Johnny Can't Tell Right from Wrong. William Kilpatrick is on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 1993 Touchstone books
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