Education: Drugs in schools: adults failing the challengeby News WeeklyNews Weekly
, July 1, 2000
Speaking from direct experience, a former school teacher reveals how prevalent drugs are in some Australian schools and the ambiguous response of teachers and parents to the problem.
“Where there is the challenge of the growing boy or girl, let there there be an adult to meet the challenge. If parent-figures abdicate, then the adolescents must make a jump to a false maturity.”
— D.W. Winnicott, child and adolescent psychiatrist and psychoanalyst
Those pushing to legalise drugs argue we have tried everything and failed, so it’s the only solution. Not true: quite the reverse, in fact, as any real educator can tell you. One told of his (not unusual) experience of drugs in school. In his class (and throughout the school) over 50% of students were on marijuana: late to class, dishevelled, dirty, acrid smell, poor concentration, red eyed, coughing and sniffing. One was very ill with pneumonia (marijuana pneumonia —well known where marijuana is widely used). As their work degenerated rapidly, their sour hostility intensified. (Young people in the western suburbs, franker than most, call this “drug f....d”; they are much too street-wise to advocate legalisation.)
Instead of meeting this challenge, many teachers try to appease adolescents. Scared to be unpopular, scared of losing their jobs, they abdicate with defeatist sighs: “Oh, yes, it’s terrible ... But ... Well ... What can you do? There are drugs in every school.”
Our educator tried to warn the students, and was publicly ridiculed by a senior teacher. (That senior teacher was very “popular”; he smoked “dope’’ himself, and it was known that he even smoked with the students.)
Soon, over 70% of the students were addicted. Some of the pushers were from “old school families” — wealthy “clients”, not to be offended. So, teachers sat and watched the tragedy from the safety of their staff room: they watched the child victims being led off, lambs to the slaughter, by the pushers outside the school gate.
Our educator protested, so a public relations exercise was set up by senior staff: drug “counsellors” were brought in for a meeting on “harm minimisation”. Meanwhile, the drug epidemic was getting worse ...
And how did the parents meet the challenge? Some took action. Some turned a blind eye. Some were pushers themselves.
One boy’s parents had taught him to smoke — as the French give their children a glass of wine with meals — they gave him dope, from age 9, to “get him used to using it responsibly”. Once intelligent, this 16-year-old was deteriorating rapidly.
Another young pusher would arrive at class doped and defiant. After one showdown he was seen with arm draped around that senior teacher’s neck. He knew he was safe.
This abdication of responsibility is part of the wholesale demeaning of education from profession to “business”: poor teacher training, an exodus of experienced ethical educators, casualisation, low standards and dumbed-down curriculum. Also, because they are cheaper, junior teachers predominate in schools; but they are inexperienced in meeting the challenge of adolescents.
Once, a student on drugs would soon have had to face the sharp reality of failure — so would his parents. Now, this safety net has gone, along with the very notion of failure itself. Pass rates sell schools, and teachers’ reputations. So no-one is failed any more.
At worst, the work is “Unsatisfactory”, to be repeated until it is “Satisfactory”. Students soon learn how to play this corrupt system, and their teachers collude.
So, doped students continue to pass, unchallenged.
Is it any wonder our adolescents are in such despair, when so many of their teachers and parents abdicate? Even the most intelligent students are vulnerable, perhaps more so than others; curious, looking for inspiration, they swallow the poisonous garbage fed them by lotus eaters: “It’s natural, it’s a herb, it increases your creativity, you appreciate music more ...”.
So, where are the adults to meet the challenge?
Our educator did an experiment at a gathering of teachers. To see if any were shocked, he said: “I’ve been told that some teachers smoke dope with their students — to be popular. Have you heard of that?”
The response? Not a single sign of shock. No-one turned a hair. Only one (with a fake sigh) answered: “Oh yes, isn’t it awful. But at least they don’t do it at school.”