Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Knight in Shining Armor Syndrome

Honoring a request, I attended and spoke at the board of education meeting at Hillsborough Monday evening on random drug testing. A more gracious board of education you could not ask for. Many, many comments I have heard repeatedly over the years but here are a few I want to address.

It was only a very small minority but it was new to me to hear that drug testing is just the wave of the future. Just don’t give it a thought. No qualms about its effectiveness. I was sad to witness Americans abandon the 4th Amendment of the Constitution, few though they were. I do not have the patience for people with so little regard for the Constitution. As Ben Franklin says, they do not deserve it.

Personal surveillance technology will continue to march forward and invading our privacy will be less intrusive or personally repugnant, although I think the students who are marched before their peers to the nurse’s office to give urine samples will not feel it is not a repugnant experience. Just because it is not deemed so intrusive, is it any the less the suspicion-less search that the 4th Amendment is intended to prevent? Where will we draw the line?

The second is a point I hear repeatedly--- that parents fail so the school should step in. Let me start out by noting that I respect the education my daughters received at Hunterdon Central and I know that Hillsborough too is fine school district. But are educators the knights in shining armor they believe they are? Too often educators take on the air of superiority when telling parents that they see these clueless parents and they, more wise educators, can address these failures. Then all will be well. When schools take on the job of parenting, all they are doing is enabling slacker parents to slack off all the more, or to feel more incompetent. As a parent I say, these drug- abusing students have been in your care, educators, for very significant periods of time too. Maybe the failure here is equally yours and ours to share. So please be careful with the knight in shining armor syndrome.

To those who have suffered loss due to drug abuse, my heart goes out to you, however schools do not serve the students and their needs with a program that does not work. Random drug testing, stripped of all the emotion and wishful thinking, has been demonstrated to be ineffective by the comprehensive University of Michigan study that was released some nine months after the Joye vs. Hunterdon Central decision was rendered. It is not courageous to adopt such a program. It is foolish. Schools districts can pilot a voluntary program and evaluate it for themselves.

Hunterdon Central out-muscled its parents by telling us that random drug testing would be the beginning of the end of the problem here. It was vital to our salvation given the results of a survey selected and underwritten by Roche, a drug company, that stands to profit from en masse testing. Now Central back peddles telling us that it makes the school have a nicer atmosphere, more manageable. What a come down. On the flip side, schools also take parents to court to force them to put their children on drugs like Ritalin, very often just rambunctious little boys. So we put them on drugs at the school’s behest and then we test them later down the road in order that things go easier at school. There is something very wrong here, everyone’s dependence on drugs to get what they want.

Ninety six percent of pain patients do not get psychologically addicted to pain medications, even if they are physically dependent and need to be weaned off of them slowly to avoid the side effects of withdrawal. The overwhelming majority of students are not drug abusers. This shows that drugs are not simply an untamable temptress whose lure cannot be withstood. Substance abuse is a reflection of serious loneliness and emotional disconnect. The baby boomers have shifted from a child -centered culture to the “me “centered culture. Our children’s favorite toys--- the Internet and computer games, IPods, TV’s in their bedrooms--- are our technological babysitters. They push our children into further emotional disconnect and isolation day after day, hour after hour.

Our children are from split homes expected to deal with the loss of affection and stability that comes with rampant divorce. Our children are alone with working parents, too many times not needing the money but out there fulfilling themselves. They shower their children with material goods and the enlightened expectation that these children live up their potential, whatever that may mean. Students today are unmannerly or anti social. We see fourth grade students with migraines and pulling out their hair---little fourth graders. There is abject cruelty in light of the pressure to perform these children contend with today.

Our children are manifesting every manner of stress reaction thinkable. Suicide, cutting, substance abuse, eating disorders, pregnancy and promiscuity, cheating, rudeness. Parents are the demonstrated anti- drug. We can fix this. But instead of having our undivided attention, personal warmth, time and presence, supervision and rules, instead of cultivating the emotional bonds and connection and our protection, the boundaries our children can rely on, we want to offer them the comfort of a testing cup. It is simple. We can stay detached, mechanical and isolated while testing makes adults feel good and responsible, no matter that it does not work. We are detached and isolated from them too. You see, it is the drug that is to blame, temptress that it is, not us or our priorities. We are at its mercy, so very helpless. Baloney. How wrong can we be in addressing this problem? We can continue to ignore the devastating effects of the “me” culture by implementing a program that is shown not to have any effect while ignoring the answer that is evident. We can sidestep the long, hard slog. But in the end we cannot fool Mother Nature. Love, nurturing, emotional fulfillment that are basic human needs necessary to be met to have healthy children will never be realized by providing a testing cup.

Stay tuned.

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