'Scared straight' teaching approach doesn't help students in real-life drug, alcohol situations (Opinion)

By Griffin Jourda The "scared straight" approach of teaching is widely regarded as one of the most ineffective methods to combat drug use and criminal activity in youth populations, in some cases even causing more of these activities in groups who experience...

'Scared straight' teaching approach doesn't help students in real-life drug, alcohol situations (Opinion)

By Griffin Jourda

The "scared straight" approach of teaching is widely regarded as one of the most ineffective methods to combat drug use and criminal activity in youth populations, in some cases even causing more of these activities in groups who experience this type of education.

It should then come as a surprise to the Portland community that "scared straight" is still a method that some Portland Public Schools health teachers utilize, albeit perhaps unwittingly.

As a student at Cleveland High School, I have noticed that teachers will go to great lengths to demonstrate the dangers of drugs and alcohol, rather than provide guidance to students about how to be responsible around drugs and alcohol. This leaves students with only the knowledge of the negative effects of drugs, and leaves them with a lack of knowledge about what to do in different situations involving drugs and alcohol.

The distance to which teachers go to promote the negative effects of drugs and alcohol includes a screening of the documentary HAZE, which analyzes the drinking and hazing culture of college students around the United States. This documentary contains graphic scenes of people partaking in harmful activities while intoxicated, as well as the repercussions of overdrinking such as vomiting, violent and aggressive behavior. The movie even includes images of corpses. This documentary in particular, and the overall approach teachers take, go directly against PPS's health curriculum guideline that "students will demonstrate the ability to access valid health information..." The only information provided to PPS students about drugs comes from two documentaries which solely highlight overuse and abuse of substances.

Unfortunately, PPS teachers only show the extremely negative repercussions of drug and alcohol abuse, rather than providing students with proper information about how to handle difficult situations involving drugs and alcohol. Alcohol and marijuana are now especially prevalent in our culture. Educators need to make sure that students are learning how to be safe around these, and other substances. Instead of using tactics designed to scare students away from using drugs, teachers need to help them learn to make informed decisions about substance use. Students also need to know what to do when substance use is negatively affecting a friend, family member, or themselves. They need to know where to find support, and they need to feel comfortable asking for support. 

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PPS must stop turning a blind eye to what is happening in their classrooms, and enforce the guidelines they laid out in the first place. Students leave the classroom with little knowledge of drugs, alcohol and the effect these substances have on their bodies, but they do leave the classroom sad and scared because of these documentaries. They are not receiving health education. The district is not even making sure that their own health guidelines are met.

Effective health education happens when teachers provide accurate, non-judgmental and unbiased information about drug and alcohol use. Coping strategies and knowledge are key, while fear tactics often backfire. When teachers provide opportunities for discussion about challenges students may face regarding drugs and alcohol, such as how to help a family member or friend, they leave students empowered rather than uneducated and scared. PPS should manage the classrooms our students occupy by ensuring that their educators teach all areas of the drug use spectrum, rather than employ the fear inducing, outdated and ineffective "scared straight" approach.

Griffin Jourda is a freshman at Cleveland High School and lives in Southeast Portland. 

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