DRUGS AND HIGH SCHOOL - EYE-OPENING FINAL EXAM
Thu, 13 Jul 2006
The Halifax Herald
MY, HOW they've grown!
When we began this journey together, these youngsters were in elementary school and I was the tall one. Now, here in Grade 11, just look how they tower over me!
Six years ago, four white, middle-class Halifax students agreed to talk to me about drugs in the school system. I was curious how pervasive illicit substances were in our classrooms.
The youngsters were willing to speak candidly but with one proviso: no real names; pseudonyms only.
We've had two interviews over the intervening years, one at elementary level, the second at junior high. Both times, the teens reported minimal personal contact with drugs and alcohol.
So now here we are, sitting down for our final session and, unfortunately, one teen has dropped out. The rest, however, Grace and Jonathan, both of whom are 16, and Freddie, who's 17, are still agreeable.
We chat about generalities for a while, and then we get down to the serious stuff.
I ask them whether they've gained or lost respect for authority figures like the police or teachers.
"About the same," says Grace.
Freddie says his respect for authority has taken a nosedive, especially where the police are concerned.
"I used to be terrified of police," he exclaims. "( Now ) I absolutely HATE cops!"
More than once, he says, he's been on the street after a party, only to be stopped and questioned by officers.
Interestingly, Freddie still has deference for teachers. "Teachers are respectful of students and that's very fair," he opines. "I'm pretty sure teachers aren't out to get students."
Jonathan says he hasn't had any run-ins with police but admits he's "heard stuff."
All three have tried booze. Freddie has been drunk; Jonathan drinks moderately and occasionally; Grace takes wine at communion and might have a sip on New Year's Eve.
"What about drugs?" I probe. "Have you done drugs?"
Freddie nods while the other two shake their heads. "But I wouldn't necessarily reject it if the opportunity presented itself," says Jonathan, adding that he wouldn't do cocaine or heroin.
The three youngsters don't feel smoking marijuana, or weed, as it's known, is necessarily bad.
"Cocaine is really bad," says Grace, "( but ) weed is the same as getting drunk."
Freddie nods. "I could leave this room and come back with definitely a lot of weed," he says.
"There are one or two people," says Jonathan, "it would take them 10 minutes to come back ( with weed )."
Grace believes most young people stay clear of drugs like cocaine. "No one's ever offered ( it to ) me," she says.
Freddie gives a snort of derision. "No one ever offers drugs!" he cries. "Drugs cost money."
I ask the teens to name the drugs doing the rounds in schools these days.
Freddie goes through the list: weed, magic mushrooms, acid, volume ( a "party" drug like speed ), ecstasy, crystal meth, coke and heroin.
Jonathan blinks: "I've never heard of anyone doing heroin in high school."
Freddie shrugs: "Weed's here every day and all the other drugs are just a phone call away."
We chat for an hour, until the bell signals the end of the school day. As we're making our goodbyes, I have a sense these youngsters still have something they want to say. It turns out that they do.
Freddie informs me that these opinions of theirs that I've been canvassing over the last six years are absolutely meaningless, considering the far bigger problems faced by millions of students elsewhere.
He points to Jonathan and Grace. "We went to the same schools," he reminds me. "There were no black people in either elementary or junior high."
Jonathan nods. "We weren't brought up in poverty," he says. "We've always been taken care of." Grace nods. "I've gone to every preppy school," she says.
"So, what are you telling me?" I ask, suddenly on the defensive.
What they're saying, they reply, is that the real story of growing up isn't to be found talking with privileged kids from the comfortable south-end of Halifax, where racism, violence and fear of eviction are unknown.
"If you do this again," Freddie says softly, "find an elementary school in the north end or the west end."
And with that, they're gone, leaving me sitting here, slightly stunned.
How did people this young get to be so clear-sighted?
Or perhaps I should be asking myself, how long have I needed glasses?