Monday, January 24, 2011

What We're Doing At School This Friday

We have the Every 15 Minutes program at our school every four years. Here's what it entails:

Genuine car accident cars are brought out to the field, and the whole school goes out to watch as actual emergency response personnel act out the scenario of a drunk driving accident. Pre-trained students are also involved, and have make-up on to simulate the wounds of the accident. The "drunk driver" is checked out by the police as the firemen use the jaws of life on the car to get a student out. A lifeflight helicopter transports the "wounded" student to the hospital, where they are pronounced dead and taken to the actual morgue. Throughout the rest of the day, pre-chosen students are pulled out of class by the Grim Reaper (in the past, it was our principal in the garb) every 15 minutes--they are taken to a site where they discuss the program, write "good-bye" letters to their families as if they had really died, etc. All of this is filmed, of course, and the next day at the Every 15 Minutes Rally the whole school watches the video and the students involved, along with their parents, talk about what it was like to simulate this tragedy.

To me it's emotional abuse. If there were any evidence at all that the program saved lives, perhaps I'd be more inclined to support it, but there is none. Not one piece. To toy with the emotions of teenagers for no measurable benefit, and to take two school days to do so--well, I've already said I find it manipulative and abusive.

That's a very long lead-in to what's going on this Friday at school. I quote from the informational letter that was emailed to us today. It's from the Traffic Safety Awareness Program, and carries the logos of the County of Sacramento, the California Office of Traffic Safety, and the Sacramento Law Enforcement Chaplaincy:

Real DUI Court in Schools is an innovative strategy for helping reduce community alcohol problems and improve traffic safety. The program “Choices & Consequences: Know the Truth” informs high school students about the risks of driving under the influence through practical education. Altering the attitudes of teen drivers is fundamental to changing their behavior. To achieve this objective, a robust, multifaceted approach to solving the problem of driving under the influence is required.

Conducting Real DUI court proceedings in Sacramento County high schools provides students with the opportunity to directly witness the legal consequences of drinking and driving, such as the defendant’s arrest, detention, and imposed fines and penalties. Students will also learn about the role and decisions of the judicial branch of the government. Allowing students to witness actual DUI sentencing hearings that go through our legal system every day gives them a memorable experience they can keep with them as a practical reference for the future. The information provided will help students make informed decisions should they ever come face to face with this situation.

This self-contained program is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. We provide the lighting,stage, courtroom structure and props. The program begins with a dynamic video on the consequences of driving under the influence provided by the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) followed by a powerful presentation from a victim of a DUI or DUI offender. The transition is seamless as the court staff takes the stage and the bailiff calls the court to order. The residing judge will preside over a real case, with a real defendant, resulting in an actual sentence. (boldface mine--Darren)

Students have the opportunity to watch the defending and prosecuting attorneys deliberate over the DUI offender’s sentence, as well as hear the judge’s verdict. Once the verdict has been read the students are invited to ask any question they have about the subject and the hearing they just witnessed.

Real DUI Court in Schools, “Choices & Consequences” is a DUI prevention program funded by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic SafetyAdministration. It brings together the best resources of the Sacramento County Superior Court, Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office and the Law Enforcement Chaplaincy-Sacramento and MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).

As this is real and not fake, and as it doesn't needlessly toy with kids' emotions, I'm inclined to be more receptive to it than I am to Every 15 Minutes. I don't know what, if any, track record this program has, but as E15M has no measurable effect on reducing DUI's at schools that host the program, this Real DUI Court In Schools program cannot do any worse.

All juniors and seniors at my school will witness/participate in this program on Friday. I'll be there for at least the first part of it, as my entire 1st period class is seniors.


MikeAT said...


I haven't heard heard about either program but please let me know how it works on Friday...will be interesting.

socalmike said...

We had this program at our school last year, and had it about 5 years ago as well. The kids seemed genuinely moved, for the most part, but of course there were kids who enjoyed "the time out of class". Overall, it's a good program. If it helps one kid.......

Darren said...

I don't accept the "if it helps one kid" argument. There are a lot of things that might help one kid, but they're too expensive, or too disruptive to everyone else, to implement. We could "save just one life" by requiring all cars to be built like tanks (without the main gun, of course), but it's just not practical.

Unlike E15M, which takes 2 days and disrupts the whole school for dramatic effect, this program takes the better part of a morning and is entirely real. I'm willing to give it a chance.

s said...

Your token flaming liberal agrees with you 110% on this one. I was at a school that decided to implement this-first year counselor, second year principal (same one that asked me 'did you tell them not to cheat?' when I caught one of the darlings of an employee). They fully knew, as they were told multiple time, of the atv accident that took a life of a student, where the kids had to carry him out of the forest to get to the ambulance (oh, and by the way, it was the secretary's kid-to hell with her feelings); the closed casket funeral that summer (which he never attended, although the teacher did) of a girl whose father tried to pass a car and got hit by a semi; and the multiple car accidents that take lives on the highway from haides that the school and community were located on. We were told to go, or else. I took or else (as did another collegue of mine). My room (and my collegue's) was full of emotionally compromised students. I had young men bawling. I wanted to kill those two sobs. Incompetance runs wild.

Ellen K said...

My kids participated in a program, sadly now unfunded, called "Shattered Dreams" In it, a team of students are the victims and perpetrators of DUI and DWI accidents. Some "die" and are escorted out by Death during class. A memorial is held and cars from fatality accidents involving DWI are placed around the school with the stories attached. I wish I could say it worked. The next year two kids died in alcohol related accidents. We only have them in school seven hours a day. What are parents and friends doing the rest of that time?

Darren said...

Ellen, to me it's not sad that your program is now unfunded. Your own statement is that the program might now work. But by any indication that program is dramatic and probably manipulative and emotionally abusive.

PA MOM said...

My hope is that you do not find my reply inappropriate. Are you and others here able to offer insight into the affects and effects that this program has on student participants, from your perspectives? My daughter has been "selected" to participate at her school and administrators there have billed the experience as the ideal scenario for peer learning.

While I absolutely support my daughter's desire to participate based on what has been presented to her as a responsible thing for student leaders to do, in my heart and my head, I cannot even come close to balancing the potential psychological trauma with the potential effective intervention. Not only that, but the participation of parents is expected and could include recorded reactions to their child's "death," the aftermath at the ER or the courthouse, and giving a eulogy - all to be recorded and released out into cyberspace.

I want to believe that this process makes a difference. I seem to be the only parent finding the whole thing to be incredibly disturbing. If I don't participate, I fail to support my daughter in her idea of promoting social justice. If I do...I can't even stand the thought of it. It would be heart-rending.

Graduate school has pounded critical theory into my core, so I watched several of the finished videos available online. I want to make a good decision based on careful consideration of the relevant information rather than gut feelings. Watching them did not result in me feeling any better about the effectiveness of such an experience as either an educational tool and/or a preventative intervention strategy.

Other parents have done it, obviously, should I just suck it up? What do you think and why and thank you for taking your valuable time to answer a mother's sincere request for help...

Darren said...

Before I answer you, PA MOM, let me share with you something I've learned after 6-plus years of blogging.

Without knowing it, I accepted a great deal of responsibility when I started this blog. It doesn't happen often, but when people ask for help or advice, I'm compelled to answer. How can I not? Yet, I have no real expertise in this field, just a little experience and a dollop of intelligence that I mix together. I put forth ideas and opinions here, with the hope that people will use those as a springboard for their own thinking on the subject. It's entirely different when people ask for advice, though; the importance of what I write skyrockets. I accept that responsibility, humbled by the knowledge that somebody thought enough of my writing to ask for more.

So here's how I respond to your comment, with all the assumed legal and reasonable disclaimers in place:

Your participation in E15M is designed to be heart-rending. That's the draw of it. The idea is to avoid the "you don't know what you've got till it's gone" of life by making you pretend it's gone.

Those who focus only on the strength of the "emotionality" of E15M--and it *is* compellingly strong--don't want to accept that it's a form of psychological abuse, but I honestly believe it is. Seriously, having people pretend their best friend or their child died, really? There's something good about that? Is there no better way than that? To me it's just sick.

Additionally, there is no evidence whatsoever that E15M works at reducing drunk driving deaths. None at all. Challenge people to find some! I mean, if it worked, that would be one thing, but it doesn't. I'll spare you the anecdotes of the students at my school who participated the last time we did it, because anecdotal evidence is just that, anecdotal. But it supports the view that E15M doesn't work.

The "supporting your daughter component" is the hardest for me, because I cannot begin to think that I'm able to offer advice about how you should deal with your relationship with your daughter. The best I can do is tell you what I'd tell my son: it's asking too much of me even to pretend you're dead, and asking even more for me to pretend that you died in a wasteful, gruesome way. I can't do it.

People like this program because it makes them feel like they're "doing something" to prevent teenage deaths from drinking and driving. Doing this, experiencing these feelings, is easier than doing what actually is shown to reduce it, and that's having a good, positive, open relationship with your child. But that takes time and effort and is continuous; someone else does E15M for you and it's only done once, and we can feel like we've done something. There, problem solved! Except that it's not.

If we're going to do something--especially something so disruptive to school and families--let's at least make sure it has a track record of success, which E15M doesn't.

As I mentioned in my post, my school hosted a Real DUI Court In Schools program. I don't know if that's any more effective than E15M, but it had some things going for it that E15M does not:
1. it's real, not a dramatization
2. students learn about the financial cost (fines and fees, which totaled thousands) of DUI, which is more realistic than imagining one's own death
3. it's nowhere near as disruptive, as it only takes a couple hours

PA MOM, I sympathize with your plight, and hope this venue has given you not only an outlet for your own feelings, but also some ideas for how you might address those feelings with both your daughter and her school. Please let me know how you decide to proceed.

Darren said...

I just watched this video--a UC Berkeley student walking, with the help of an exoskeleton, to get his diploma. He's paralyzed because he was drinking and driving:
"Whitney had been drinking when he crashed his car into a tree and severed his spinal cord four years ago; he now gives motivational talks about the dangers of drinking and driving."

I'm all about reality, and not so much the drama, which is one of the reasons I do not support the E15M program.

Anonymous said...

Unsolicited, but I have a comment.

My wife and I have this rule of thumb that we use when raising our child. That rule is that we don't lie to him.

We will tell him that we won't answer a question. We will provide an answer that we think is appropriate for his age (when watching a Babe Ruth biography, the subject of whorehouses came up ... "Dad, what's a whorehouse?" ... well, son, ...).

When he came home from a weekend with his aunt's we told him that the cat died; the cat did not go to live somewhere else or run away. The cat died.

In the long run, my belief is that the transient "fun" of lying to children about, for example, Santa Claus, is far outweighed by the child learning that the parents can/will lie about things with no way for the child to predict when/where. I also think that the transient benefit of avoiding an unpleasant conversation comes out behind when the child learns that his parents may not be trustworthy. I think that growing up wondering if/when your parents are lying to you (for fun, for your own good, to avoid an embarrassing conversation, whatever) is *VERY* bad, partially because I want to ability to say at some point, "This is X, and no I can't prove it right now, but please believe me," and have a long track record with my child of telling the truth.

One side effect of this is that I *also* try not to lie to other children (or adults, either, for what it is worth). This school program seems to fall into the "lie to them for their own good" category. If I had to guess, my guess would be that the long term lesson that the kids would learn is that adults are not to be trusted. That is the lesson *I* would learn from this at age 16. This may not be the valuable lesson that the adults here are trying to impart.

I expect to be in the minority on this one (compared to the population as a whole, maybe not for the people who read this blog), but I'm kinda used to holding divergent opinions :-)

-Mark Roulo

Darren said...

Mark, I don't think anyone's lying in E15M, but they *are* manipulating people emotionally, to an unproven end.

Anonymous said...

Darren: "Mark, I don't think anyone's lying..."

So everyone (even the kids watching the video at the end) know that this is just pretend?

If so, then my comment is pretty pointless :-)

Then I guess I'm really in your camp on this one. Why not just watch interviews with people who have lost loved ones to drunk driving (I'm sure such videos exist ... or could be made to exist)? And videos of people who actually killed people because of drunk driving? I think these would be much more powerful. This is, of course, assuming that we want the schools to focus less of academics and more on other things.

-Mark Roulo

Elaine C. said...

I usually read and respond to this blog wearing my teacher hat. So it feels a bit weird to put on my mom hat.

We are often told in society to discount our instincts - that civilization means ignoring how we feel. For women, it has contributed to our over 30% c-section rate, and our criminally low breastfeeding rate. It wasn't until I had a high risk pregnancy that I really learned to relax and actually listen to my instincts. Raising my daughter (now 14 months, so we're still just getting started! ) has reinforced that I need listen to myself. When the dr says everything is fine, but your instincts say otherwise, listen. When everyone says somethig is alright and there's no need to worry, but you can't stop worrying, listen. Our subconscious often processes situations faster than our conscious does - its an eveloutionary benefit that let us survive dangerous complex situations.

You know your daughter. What does your heart say? Listen. Sit down and share your concerns with her. If she's old enough to participate, she's old enough to give you her point of view. Listen. And teach her to listen too. That's a lesson in and of itself that she needs... perhaps more than any other she will get out of this situation.

Anonymous said...

I was a student at Mr. Miller's school when this program was run once. They had a helicopter come in, bloody bodies in a car, firetrucks, the whole nine yards. What do I remember and take away from it? That I was happy to get out of Algebra II. From my point of view, it's completely useless, and you shouldn't have to pretend your daughter died. Especially like that.

Coach Brown said...

Mark and Darren,

Your point about watching and interviewing victims of drunk driving is excellent, and they do exist. But the one's I watch are so made up with music and special effects that it almost can't be taken seriously. It's edutainment, not really a matter that could mean life and death. So while E15M takes an extreme towards the issue, those glitzy videos seem to take the other.

When I interviewed students a few years ago, they told me that the part of E15M that impacted them the most was the person that addressed an assembly that actually had family die due to drunk driving. It was real, powerful, and student could relate. You didn't need all the mock scenery.

Eowyn said...

I didn't respond originally because I thought you nailed it, Darren. This is emotional abuse.

A parent doing this to their own children could easily lose their children to Child Protective Services. So why is it okay for a school to do it?

When I was teaching we had to bring our students in for a DUI talk. It was my first year. I had had zero warning about the subject.

The talk was very graphic. I was having trouble with the talk, and the way it was being presented. And it only focused on "don't get in the car; you will die!" There was no mention of other outcomes. I don't know how many of my students were only pretending to laugh it off; I just know I got to enjoy some truly amazing flashbacks for a few weeks. And when I say amazing, I don't mean enjoyable.

Trying to scare teenagers straight does not, in my opinion, work. Teenagers by and large think they're invincible, unless they've already had their nose rubbed in the fact that their not. And at that point, is it right (never mind cruel, or just) to make them relieve their memories?

PA MOM said...

I had hoped for a response, but I never expected so much thoughtful feedback. Thank you all for taking the time to offer these valuable insights. Thank you for answering me, even when others may not have wanted to acknowledge or accept the responsibility that you speak of in your response, Darren. Coach, thanks for starting the conversation and following it here...

I am really struggling here to reconcile my responsibility as a mom with the psychologist and educator in me and it is just not working. After taking some time to consider what I imagined it would be like for me to participate in such an activity – the mere thought of it brings tears to my eyes - I talked to my daughter about her own expectations and whether or not she had considered the emotional impact of participation. Fortunately, we have a very good relationship (of course I am biased, but hopefully not out-and-out wrong ;-).

I made a point to tell her that: (1) while I support her and many efforts to teach these valuable lessons, I believe it is unethical to manipulate data in order to produce statistics designed to illicit a particular response (in the U.S., an alcohol-related teen death does not occur every 15 minutes and it is wrong to inflate the numbers for what appears to be increased shock value); (2) at most, scientific research is only able to identify short-term attitude changes as a result of this program, but no changes to subsequent behavior; and (3) several preventative intervention programs have been identified as more valuable, practical and effective alternatives for teaching these lessons.

My concerns in no way changed her mind about participating, however, at least now she knows my feelings. These three things came out of that conversation, at minimum: (1) I believe that she is underestimating the potential for emotional trauma (to herself and to others); (2) she believes that any emotional trauma, in this case, will be useful (benefits outweigh risks); and (3) she has told me that I do not have to participate, but she has asked me not to prevent her participation.

In the end, I have decided that she should not have to go through this alone. She may be underestimating the potential for emotional trauma and I may be underestimating the value of such an exercise, but either way, the best approach is likely to be a supportive effort between us. I have the feeling that, from our different perspectives, talking about the exercise after the fact will be mutually beneficial.

Again, thank you all for being so generous with your time and thoughts. My research interest area involves building learning communities online, but I am still pleasantly surprised and grateful every time I reach out and others respond.


Darren said...

One parent to another: you're a good mom.