DARE to Say No

Policing and the War on Drugs in Schools

By Max Felker-Kantor

288 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 17 halftones, 3 graphs, 3 tables

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7904-4
    Published: April 2024
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7636-4
    Published: April 2024
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7637-1
    Published: February 2024

Justice, Power, and Politics

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With its signature "DARE to keep kids off drugs" slogan and iconic t-shirts, DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) was the most popular drug education program of the 1980s and 1990s. But behind the cultural phenomenon is the story of how DARE and other antidrug education programs brought the War on Drugs into schools and ensured that the velvet glove of antidrug education would be backed by the iron fist of rigorous policing and harsh sentencing.

Max Felker-Kantor has assembled the first history of DARE, which began in Los Angeles in 1983 as a joint venture between the police department and the unified school district. By the mid-90s, it was taught in 75 percent of school districts across the United States. DARE received near-universal praise from parents, educators, police officers, and politicians and left an indelible stamp on many millennial memories. But the program had more nefarious ends, and Felker-Kantor complicates simplistic narratives of the War on Drugs. He shows how policing entered US schools and framed drug use as the result of personal responsibility, moral failure, and poor behavior deserving of punishment rather than something deeply rooted in state retrenchment, the abandonment of social service provisions, and structures of social and economic inequality.

About the Author

Max Felker-Kantor is associate professor of history at Ball State University.
For more information about Max Felker-Kantor, visit the Author Page.


"Intriguing social chronicle of the DARE anti-drug education program . . . . An approachable consideration of an unexamined aspect of the failed war on drugs . . . . evenhanded."—Kirkus Reviews

"Max Felker-Kantor's illuminating and highly original study demonstrates how the DARE program mirrored the LAPD's racialized practices and how the 'soft' war on drugs undergirded the expansion of the carceral state. DARE to Say No will forever change the way we think about the war on drugs."—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

"For decades, DARE has toggled between the 'solution' to the drug crisis and a generational joke. Max Felker-Kantor does something entirely new: he takes the program seriously, revealing how seemingly nonpunitive institutions like schools have become extensions of the country's carceral state."—Emily Dufton, Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America

"Masterful—DARE to Say No pierces through usual debates about the drug war with an original and damning framing. Many people have cultural impressions and memories of DARE, and Felker-Kantor’s book illustrates that the program’s significance is far wider and more complex than we imagined."—Julilly Kohler-Hausmann, author of Getting Tough: Welfare and Imprisonment in 1970s America

"No such historical account exists of the most widespread and well-funded antidrug program in American history. Max Felker-Kantor's carefully studied policy history on the underlying agenda of the DARE program will be readily welcomed by a range of scholars."—David Farber, author of Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed

"As the demand for increased police presence in schools continues, Felker-Kantor’s timely analysis of the history of police-based antidrug programs shows clearly that these interventions don't work. DARE to Say NO is a necessary read for anyone who thinks we can police our way out of this problem."—Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing