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Drug Education: Can Teachers Really Do the Job?


by Roger F. Aubrey - 1971

The steps taken to overcome the obstacles barring the way toward confronting drug education in our schools may well represent a giant stride forward toward creating a more meaningful dialogue between youngsters and adults than now exists. Such an outcome would be worth much of the travail and pain.

Concerned representatives from local, state, and federal agencies have been putting their heads together, striving to stem the tide of drug usage among young people. Private citizens, along with religious, civic, and business organizations, reveal increasing apprehension about the problem, perhaps more here than with any other single concern in recent times. The magnitude of the problem, however, and the continuing appeal of drugs to the young and disenchanted have thrust major preventative efforts on the institution least likely to dissuade youngsters from drug-taking, the schools.

Because the schools are the only social institution with a captive audience six to eight hours a day for an extended period, the rationale for assigning schools the task of drug prevention is understandable. At some point most youngsters will have an opportunity to take drugs. For this reason the schools cannot shirk responsibility for teaching effectively about the nature and danger of drugs.

Critics opposed to the schools as centers for teaching about drugs point to weaknesses in the assignment. They claim that schools are lacking in adequately trained staff, funds, and facilities. They argue, too, that the schools suffer from major shortages of suitable resources and teaching aids. Despite the criticism, recent gains in the quality of drug programs in the schools reveal that these inadequacies can be overcome.

Assuming that trained faculty members and materials are available, what then prevents the schools from undertaking a massive educational assault against drug addiction? The scope of the problem demands top priority. What other considerations, in light of the spreading moral and physical blight in our land, would seem more urgent?

On any of these counts, the schools could legitimately move more forcefully into drug education. In fact, many forward-thinking school systems have developed their own programs. A number without benefit of state or federal funds have been forced into drug education, either by, or in combination with, the deleterious behavior of their students or pressure from parent groups. Altruistic motives notwithstanding, the question of the school's competency in dealing with the problem remains questionable.

"Teaching" Drug Education One of the most obvious reasons for doubting the ability of schools in deterring students from drug-taking lies in the educative process itself. Typically, teachers who have acquired mastery of a particular discipline or field, in turn, attempt to impart discrete and selected units to their students. The tools for imparting this knowledge get sharpened allegedly through coursework. In the process traditionally the teacher assumes authority and expertise by virtue of greater mastery of both subject-matter and methodology as well as by the powers vested in him. The teacher's charge, therefore, is to facilitate learning in young people by a selection of methods, materials, and experiences best suited to achieve these ends. Can the same criteria be applied to drug education? Can we really "teach" drug education?

The problem in "teaching" drug education is not a problem new to educators or, for that matter, to society. It is certain to arise whenever student attitudes and values fail to yield to cognitive knowledge alone. In fact, whenever knowledgeable authorities attempt "to teach" with an uncertain mixture of affective-cognitive elements, they will have trouble. Whenever affective grounds are assigned primary importance or are relied upon in spite of insufficient or unconvincing evidence,, teachers will experience increasing difficulty in the classroom. When this occurs, the credibility of the teacher shifts from a base supported by documentation and evidence to one upheld by persuasion and exhortation. The teacher is then forced to adjust teaching style to the interplay of his particular discipline or knowledge, the techniques and methodologies at his disposal, the stated and limited course objectives, and the condition of the learner. In "teaching" drug education, the central problem concerns the weakness involving both an adequate knowledge base for the effective education of students and the lack of techniques for presenting this knowledge to pupils. In turn, this void threatens to widen the present gap between stated objectives in drug education and actual results in student attitudes and behavior.

Affective Education and Drugs These inadequacies perforce result in an obvious lack of teacher success in the affective education of pupils as far as drugs are concerned. The mature products of education, our present citizens and taxpayers, should also be honest in appraising their own education. If they were candid, they might admit the schools did not influence them greatly- in deciding whether to vote Republican or Democratic, in selecting a Ford or Chevrolet, in marrying or remaining single, in having a large or small family, in demonstrating for or against the war in Vietnam, and so on. These decisions were founded on data involving a combination of cognitive-affective elements, and not on factual or intellectual evidence alone. The choices dealt with value judgments going well beyond cognitive, intellectual, or rational grounds. The decisions involved personal preferences that the schools either chose to ignore or failed to influence.

Should the schools assume educational tasks that extend well beyond a cognitive-intellectual foundation? Should educators really be committed to concerns and inquiries rooted in affective-emotional components? If so, this investment is scarcely in evidence in either our teacher training institutions or in the time allotted to these objectives in public schools.

Consider for a moment the teacher's function in dealing with drugs. The straightforward, factual presentation quickly breaks down as soon as the floor is open to questions. This happens not so much because gaps and holes in the cognitive foundation appear, but more importantly, because teachers are inadequately trained to deal with all value-laden topics. Education 251 at the State University simply did not prepare Miss Jones for the give and take, rough and tumble encounters with today's youngsters.

Students who, if motivation is high enough, can be compelled "to learn" skills and concepts and demonstrate competency through tests and examinations become quite a different teaching problem in drug or sex education. Here the teacher's sanctions concerning the out-of-school behavior of youngsters are nonexistent. Similarly, the teacher's use of sanctions within the school is no guarantee of success in achieving objectives. If anything, the influence of the teacher is negatively related to the number of positive or negative sanctions she must employ in attaining ends. The use of any sanction in relationships involving a free exchange on values simply serves to remind students of their subordinate relationship to the teacher and represses spontaneity.

The authoritative posture of the teacher is also a liability in drug education because it inhibits the self-struggle of the individual. As an authority and expert the teacher's position is usually accepted or rejected by pupils on the basis of their own past experience or their personal feelings toward the teacher. The weakness therefore lies not only in the possible imposition of the teacher's values, but even more deleterious in the long run is the possibility that the student might unquestionably accept the teacher's position. This act of passive submission subverts the entire learning process by failing to allow the student to question and discover values for himself, thereby "owning" these values instead of "borrowing" them for ease and convenience.

Thoughtful examination terminating in successful internalization of values is a process rarely explored by the student teacher during formal training. In fact, this process is often alien to what passes for models of "good teaching." All too frequently the stereotype of the "good" teacher is the kindly paternal figure who somehow has the answer or solution to all queries. Seldom is the good teacher portrayed as one occasionally stumped or pressed by pupils. Rarely is a teacher depicted as a learner himself, one actively engaged in an objective exploration and examination of evidence.

Changing Teaching Styles Any attempt by the schools to influence youngsters in the problems of drugs or similar areas surrounded by doubt, suspicion, or controversy requires major changes in teaching styles. This modification primarily involves a conscious move from an authoritative-cognitive to a facilitative-affective approach. In effect, both the base of knowledge and teaching methodology must shift from a foundation rooted in erudition and mastery to one resting on skill and ease in interpersonal relationships. Learning would thus proceed with the teacher serving as a catalytic agent in promoting honest and genuine group explorations of values and attitudes.

The type of teaching and learning accompanying value-laden topics is obviously more risky and dangerous than traditional approaches. For example, an honest exploration of marijuana usage cannot skirt the fact that alcohol is actually more injurious to health and a greater social problem than drugs at the present time. This admission by a teacher often opens the gates to many adult hypocrisies, and students may quickly attack these targets, skirting the issues at hand. When this occurs or other legitimate injustices are raised, the teacher faces some difficult choices. To bypass the topic may mean a plunge into content foreign, even upsetting, to the teacher. To stick to the topic may result in disrespect and student tuneout. Finally, a refusal to consider other issues or points of view may indicate to students the rigidity and inflexibility of the teacher in practicing what she is teaching.

Where does all this leave the teacher in programs of drug education? Must schools create new positions and curricula each time social conditions demand educational intervention and assistance? Can teachers be trained so that an imposition of their values will not be fostered in students, while at the same time value exploration is prized and encouraged? Can we deter youngsters from drug abuse, while not "turning them off" by a strong moralistic position? What steps must be taken before embarking on full-scale programs on this problem?

The answers to these questions raise concerns extending well beyond the purpose of this paper. They involve matters pertaining not only to the educational establishment, but also to the relationship between schools and the community-at-large. It appears increasingly evident that many pressing social issues, including drugs, are being thrust upon the schools with only slight understanding of the enormous problems they entail. Through panic and caprice the public would have teachers instructing pupils in some matters but propagandizing them in others.

Training Teachers Irrespective of the schools' success in resisting public pressure in the past (and this is doubtful on many counts), it seems unlikely that schools can escape responsibility much longer in "hot points" traditionally left to the family or other social institutions. Educators, ready or not, must therefore take on the burdens as skillfully as possible in matters related to the emotional attitudes of pupils. This endeavor does not require mammoth efforts in preparing new curricula and instructional aids for teachers. Rather, it involves a full-scale effort in the training, preparation, and education of teachers.

To deal with the drug problem, sexual promiscuity, civil rights matters, and other heated issues of the day, a massive effort on at least two fronts is necessary. The first front can be manned at the college or university charged with the training and preparation of teachers. At this level changes must occur in the actual experiential encounters of students rather than in content or subject matter. If students are someday "to teach" others about values, they must first learn to come to grips with the emotional ricochet such exchanges engender.

At present two experiences seem encouraging in training future teachers for dealing with the attitudes and values of their pupils. One is a course or seminar exploring the teacher's own belief system and motivation in entering the profession. At the University of Chicago this course is simply titled, "The Psychology of Becoming a Teacher," and is required of all M.S.T. candidates. The purpose of the course is actually an opportunity for future teachers to explore their own thoughts and feelings in an atmosphere free from anxiety and under the leadership of a trained psychologist.

Another experience that is increasingly open to university-level students is that of a course and/or membership in an encounter group. It would seem desirable for all future teachers to take a course in group dynamics, and better yet, to participate as a member in a group engaged in attitudinal and value exploration. Unfortunately, most colleges and universities currently devote a disproportionate amount of time to content in teacher preparation, failing to place sufficient emphasis on participatory membership in group experiences.

The second front requiring a thorough overhauling is the public schools. It is naive and hazardous to assign teachers responsibility for drug education and similar tasks without adequate preparation for the problems they will encounter. Administrators may find it easy to say, "All teachers should practice good guidance." However, it is an entirely different matter to plan or predict favorable outcomes in the type of student-teacher interaction occurring in discussions of loaded issues.

Just as future teachers need training and experience before leading groups on topics involving values and affective behavior, so do the majority of teachers currently working in our public schools. Without this training and experience too many efforts directed toward student decision-making and mature value judgments are doomed. In fact, if inadequately prepared teachers are compelled to lead discussions on these topics, they may even receive a strong backlash from their students on return to customary subject matter in the classroom.

Requisite training for effective drug education is a major undertaking. In most public school systems this training is well beyond the capability of present administrators and faculty members. A collaborative effort between public schools, universities, clinics, and private corporations is essential if the problems are to be solved.

The steps taken to overcome the obstacles barring the way toward confronting drug education in our schools may well represent a giant stride forward toward creating a more meaningful dialogue between youngsters and adults than now exists. Such an outcome would be worth much of the travail and pain.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 72 Number 3, 1971, p. 417-422
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1645, Date Accessed: 12/2/2021 11:50:47 PM

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