DRUG EDUCATION IN SCHOOLS: THE NEXT FRONTIER?
The ongoing war on drugs has in its arsenal the stigmatisation not only of psychoactive substances, but of their users and sympathisers. Such attitudes to drugs in the general population often have their genesis in high school drug education, in which 'objective' notions of health are depicted as seperate and other to the use of psychoactive substances, and due to their 'addictive nature', free conversations about them must be limited or silenced. The silence and unwillingness to engage with evidence around drugs in society is a product of the way in which our society has decided to speak to us about them, beginning when we are children. How we create structures for exploring the benefits of drugs in society will depend on how we equip the subsequent generations to engage with the evidence around them.
In this lecture, the complex literature and practices around drug education in secondary schools will be explored, while drawing these back to the dominant social and political discourses in which they are rooted. From the historical context of abstinence-only, zero-tolerance approaches, to the increasing acceptance of a harm reduction approach by the literature, the presence of these discourses will be analysed and compared to 'alternative' drugs discourses which acknowledge both the presence of drugs in society, and the realities of their human consumption. The limitations in implementing a truly harm reduction approach involve complex relationships between a range of stakeholders: from academics, to parents, and the media. Looking to the future, how can we build on this emerging focus on harm reduction to also allow for conversations around the therapeutic use of currently illicit substances? How can we prepare students for the reality of an increasingly decriminilised and psychedelic future? The prospects for such an honest conversation with all students through their schooling life will be explored, and what this honest conversation could and should look like, taking into account scientific, sociological and pedagogical perspectives.
NICK KENT works as a secondary school teacher in the areas of languages and the humanities. He is currently completing his Masters through research at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, where he is undertaking a critical discourse analysis of school policies and resources as they relate to drug education, comparing both local and international examples. After completing the Grad. Dip in Teaching in 2015, Nick was perplexed at the lack of teacher training around student drug use and the silence of the education system on this issue, as well as the slow pace of drug reform more broadly. Inspired to learn more, and to advocate and research this area further, Nick helped found Students for Sensible Drug Policy Australia in 2016, setting up their second chapter at the University of Melbourne. Nick was instrumental in the UniMelb chapter's work in setting up a harm reduction program that would supply re-agent drug checking kits to students free of charge through the Student Union, and has travelled to numerous international conferences to represent this globally significant program. Nick draws upon his experience in nightclub and festival communities, as well as his experience volunteering with DanceWize as a Peer Educator and his policy and international experience with SSDP in both his teaching and his research.