Kirkus Reviews QR Code
DARE TO SAY NO by Max Felker-Kantor


Policing and the War on Drugs in Schools

by Max Felker-Kantor

Pub Date: April 2nd, 2024
ISBN: 9781469679044
Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina

Intriguing social chronicle of the DARE anti-drug education program.

Felker-Kantor builds on prior work on policing with an account of the stealthy rise and fall of DARE, which began in Los Angeles in 1983 under aggressive chief Daryl Gates. While often ridiculed, the once-ubiquitous DARE programs, which featured officers in uniform as “teachers,” normalized the presence of police in everyday life. “DARE attempted to give the police a human face,” writes the author, “while simultaneously expanding the scorched-earth policing” of the drug war. Felker-Kantor takes an evenhanded approach, showing how DARE benefited many parties, attracting support from educators, politicians, and donors, as well as police officers who emphasized their bonding experiences with schoolchildren. Early on, few noticed how it concealed the racialized mechanics of “zero tolerance” prohibition and normalized the unnecessary presence of police in schools. In the 1980s, DARE expanded in line with the Reagan era’s conservatism, which “placed the family, personal responsibility, and morality at the crux of the drug war.” The author documents how DARE accrued political power as it was franchised nationwide, becoming a nonprofit in 1987, while gaining corporate sponsors and a merchandising arm. “By the mid-1990s, DARE had become a cultural icon of its own,” writes the author, while ignoring the structural roots of drug abuse and how middle-class suburban students’ experience with the program diverged from that of students from marginalized communities. Yet pushback accrued by the late 1990s, due to both parental backlash and studies suggesting the program did not influence behavior. “The continued attention DARE received, whether praise or mocking, demonstrated the deep impact the program had on American society, politics, and culture,” writes the author. While his central points can be repetitive, his straightforward account of DARE’s insidiously authoritarian growth is insightful and instructive.

An approachable consideration of an unexamined aspect of the failed war on drugs.