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Just Say Know

By: David Mandel  

Published in the Jewish Press, December 1, 2000

Former first lady Nancy Reagan popularized the term Just Say No in the early 1980’s. This concept used by the anti-drug forces such as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the US Customs Service theorized that saying no would decrease the demand and use of drugs, ultimately reducing the supply of drugs into this country. 

Lately this expression has been replaced with Just Say Know. You can thank someone’s marketing genius; after all it is said there are no new ideas today, only better recycled old ones. The Just Say No effort had mixed results. While it concentrated on reducing the demand for drugs by encouraging the customer to say no, it’s supply was continuing unabated onto the streets of New York City. 

Drugs are big business. Very, very big. In the early 1980’s when the Just Say No campaign was mounting the Medellin drug cartel in Columbia was producing and distributing billions of dollars of drugs, mainly cocaine. Their primary market was the United States. Were there to be a Forbes listing of the world’s wealthiest non-legal businesses, producers and distributors of cocaine would rank at the top. Banks in South Florida were taking in hundreds of millions in cash thus reaping a bonanza in their reserves and investments. Narcotics agents were simply fighting an uphill battle on too many fronts. Billions were at stake. Just Say No, was a difficult concept in the early 80’s when availability of drugs was plentiful, their price was cheap, the high was good and some of your best friends were doing it, or better yet, selling it. 

Education 
Just Say Know emphasizes, as you would expect, an educational approach. Theory has it that if you learn a concept at a young age, and you learn it repeatedly it is more likely you’ll remember it. This is why we all remember nursery rhymes and the A B C, because we learned it early and often. 

Kings County District Attorney, Joe Hynes, introduced such a program in the school system. The concept is a simple one. It introduces an anti-drug educational program in the early grades "Just Say Know", so in their teenage years these kids will Just Say No. 

This type of approach has its supporters and critics. Proponents of learning theory believe one important way of teaching adolescents or adults is to begin very early. Even if it’s a program on drugs. Opponents argue that we are teaching children words and concepts that can contaminate their minds. This is not a question of a right or wrong approach; it’s an issue with two reasonable perspectives. 

Ecstasy
Cocaine was to the drug market in the 1980’s what ecstasy is to the Jewish (read orthodox) market in the late 90’s and beyond. We need not go into a discussion here on the manufacturing and distribution of ecstasy. Let’s just understand that it is a very, very big business. Let’s also accept that large quantities of this drug are being targeted and finding their way to our kids. A reality we may be unwilling to accept. 

Just Saying Know to drugs in our yeshiva educational system is a very controversial topic. It should be. Why should you introduce a concept that is foreign to many adolescents and certainly foreign to elementary school kids? I am not advocating one position over the other, rather, a discussion of the options is often the best way to debate a controversial issue. 

Both government and private foundations are funding a Just Say Know approach to drug prevention. Many schools have included these programs for their youngsters as part of their curriculum and many yeshivas of late have also permitted this type of orientation. This is occurring especially at the eighth-grade level, which many educators and mental health professionals now consider the year kids are most vulnerable to change. 

We, at OHEL, are the recipients of a grant from the Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Life Monument Funds to provide education and prevention on a wide range of at risk issues. We have a male and female Educational Specialist available to speak in yeshivas, to talmidim, rabbonim, teachers and parents. These conversations in the classroom can be informal or formal determined by the school administration. This may be a general discussion based on the child’s age or more specific if there’s been an issue in the school. With the arrest of several orthodox men these past two years for selling drugs, especially ecstasy in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and Monsey, it’s hard to believe that many youngsters are totally unaware of what’s going on in our community. G-d forbid I’m not suggesting these teens are using drugs. I’m just proposing that many more kids are aware of what’s going on than many adults give them credit for. 

How Much Should Parents Discuss with Children? 
A Just Say Know approach is not limited to classrooms. Here again we emphasize that parents should decide if and how they want to handle this in their home. Parents should knowingly determine if they want to discuss this with their thirteen or sixteen year old or maybe wait until the topic comes up in conversation. 

This is not only an issue for a family and a yeshiva to grapple with; it is an issue for our community as a whole. Should this be the subject of a Shabbos drasha by a Rav as several have recently done, both pulpit rabbis and chassidishe Rabbanim? How much should the Jewish media, radio and print, discuss this? Should Jewish communal organizations discuss these controversial issues at their annual conference? It’s not OHEL’s place to advocate one position over another. It is our place to offer a discussion of current issues affecting our community, to present options and to be part of the solution. Organizations such as Counterforce, a member agency of Torah Umesorah have successfully provided counseling and drug prevention programs in yeshivas for many years. 

OHEL will continue to participate in a public discussion of this and similar issues affecting our community. Just saying no did not work that well. It may be high time to replace no with know. 

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