Kilroy Was Here
January 03, 2003
Zero Tolerance Does Not Work
In Slate, Maia Szalavitz writes a great article on the failure of the zero-tolerance, drug treatment programs in many schools today.
From the article:
what if drug "treatment" doesn't work for teens? What if, rather than decreasing drug use, teen treatment actually encourages it by labeling experimenting kids as lifelong addicts? What if it creates the worst sorts of peer groups by mixing kids with mild problems with serious drug users who are ready and willing to teach them to be junkies? What if suggestible kids respond poorly to the philosophies that have made Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous successful for many adults? Then we'd be using "treatment" to turn ordinary adolescents into problem drug abusers.
That's precisely what we're doing.
This type of ineffective and damaging policy stems out of a fundamental error in the philosophy of parenting, the over-estimating of the power of parents in the behavior of their children.
As Judith Rich Harris so elegantly argues in her book The Nurture Assumption, parental policies have little to no impact on the behavior of their children; rather, most of the environmental factors that significantly shape a person's behaviors derive from the interaction with their peer groups.
Therefore, the best (and perhaps only) way to modify a child's behavior is to move that child to a peer group that exercises the behavior you want to see.
In my reading of Harris, the drug treatment, zero-tolerance policy detailed here is almost the very thing parents (and communities) should NOT do. By placing their child in a peer group that shares this addictive behavior, parents are almost guaranteeing the results they want to avoid.
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