Project Charlie: Never Say Never to Drugs

Project Charlie: Never Say Never to Drugs
Rick Branch

Every day across America, children are sent to school by unsuspecting parents. The parents assume their children are attending classes which teach reading, writing and arithmetic. However, many of these children are also attending another class. In many schools, the teachers are asked to leave the room by school counselors. The children then attend a new curriculum–Project Charlie.

Originating in Edina, Minnesota in 1976, this program has swept the country.

Under the auspices of an anti-drug education program, Project Charlie (Chemical Abuse Resolution Lies In Education) endeavors to help students avoid the pit-falls of drug use.

While this is a truly noble and worthwhile goal, it is the methodology used in Project Charlie that has drawn much criticism from its opponents over the years.


According to the Arlington, Texas Citizen-Journal, “Project Charlie, which will target elementary school children, focuses on building self esteem, teaching social skills and discouraging drug use, said Julie Stevens, Arlington director for the Tarrant Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.

“Project Charlie approaches drug abuse prevention from a perspective other than telling kids what they shouldn’t do (20 July 1990, p.4A).

One of the things that Project Charlie avoids telling Children they should not do, is take drugs.

As Dr. W.R. Coulson, one of the nations leading experts in the area of psychological techniques and drug education programs has warned, “…the descriptions of the effects of noxious substances found in Project Charlie support what the Federal Drug Education Panel had said all along:

“That bare-bones, detached, clinical descriptions of good and bad effects of drugs can be dangerous per se, in that they, first, invite suggestible youngsters to try them, second, refuse to forbid them, and third, refuse to sell abstinence in their place” (Research Council on Ethnopsychology, 25 May 1990, p.1).

Though Project Charlie does have a section on drug education, it clearly fits all three of Dr. Coulson’s warnings. Project Charlie is not an abstinence based drug education curriculum. Rather it is based on the New Age ideology of values clarification.

Dr. George Twente, Chief of Psychiatry at the Decatur, Georgia General Hospital has reviewed Project Charlie.

He states, “It is not appropriate for all students for it invades the privacy of the individual and their home, their beliefs and incorporates the use of group psychotherapy techniques to be used by people that are not trained psychologists.

“Also I would mention that the use of values clarification with elementary level students is inappropriate because they are dependent on external authority for guidance” (Letter 28 August 1990, p.1).

The Curriculum

In the 376 page Project Charlie manual, many interesting and seemingly contradictory philosophies are noted.

For example, in the Goals and Objectives section the statement, “to promote abstinence for school age students” is found (p.7).

It would therefore be assumed that Project Charlie is an abstinence based drug education program.

However, just one page later is written, “The third objective seeks to facilitate responsible decisions about drug use by providing information concerning the pharmacological, legal and psychological consequences of chemicals” (p.8).

Which does Project Charlie seek to do – “promote abstinence” or “facilitate responsible decisions” about drugs? The latter would certainly seem to be the case from the curriculum.

In a section for teachers on ways to teach Project Charlie, the following Tip is given. “What if a student has very different values from those of the leader and other students?

“It’s important to remember that the best way to change him is to let him know you accept his having a certain value and then let him hear others tell about their values” (p.16).

What happened to abstinence based education? Remember that in reality, Project Charlie is not based on abstinence, but rather based on the New Age philosophy of values clarification. In fact, on the very next page, under Tips for the teachers, the Project Charlie manual recommends using a technique from Sidney Simons’ book Values Clarification (p.17). This book is also listed in the Resource Acknowledgments section (p.376).

The manual is filled with this type of philosophy. Under the heading Decision Making the manual explains, one of Charlie’s purposes is “To teach students specific skills whey they want to say no” (p.309).

Apparently the decision of when to say no is delegated to the students opinion. That is, if the student wants to say no, then say no. However, what happens if the student wants to say yes? It is the student’s choice and Charlie will teach them the appropriate skills to make their decisions.

Project Charlie explains the teacher/counselor should, “Emphasize that decision be made based on what you know is right, not what your friends say is right or what they want you to do” (p.129).

Suppose it is the students’ opinion that drugs are right. Project Charlie has just confirmed their beliefs. Again, this idea is reiterated in the introduction to the Intermediate Decision Making Unit.

“The premise that many drug-abusing youngsters have ineffective methods of problem solving and making decisions influenced the development of this unit.

“The children are encouraged to explore their personal values and learn to make decisions based on what they believe rather than on peer influence” (p.290).

Remember, the decisions are based on the child’s personal value structure. Thus, the theory suggests that if the child has great values, they will abstain from drugs.
However, what if the child has poor values? The values would lead to drug use according to the theory.

Is it true that only bad children do drugs and all good children abstain? Of course not. Project Charlie is based on a faulty premise, that of values clarification.

Also, Project Charlie teaches that the child is to act according to their own values and not be influenced by peers. Therefore the child who uses drugs should not, according to Project Charlie, be influenced by their friends who do not do drugs. The premise is a two-way street!

Role of the Teacher

It may be asked then, if Project Charlie is based on the idea that each individual acts according to their own values, how can the counselor promote the idea of abstention as is claimed in the Goals and Objectives section?

The answer is –they cannot. This is emphasized in an Information Sheet for the teachers. It is entitled, “Some Possible Roadblocks to Effective Communication” (p.282).

Project Charlie would have the parents believe that it is an anti-drug program in which the teacher/counselor explains the dangers of drug use to their children.

However, in the roadblocks to effective communication are listed several interesting statements.

The first roadblock is “Persuading with Logic.” The teacher is not to invoke logic when teaching about drugs. They are not to say, “That is not right…” or “The facts are…” (p.282).

They are also not to “Provide Answers or Solutions.”

How can Project Charlie teach about drug education if it teaches the counselors to avoid logic, to bypass the facts, to dismiss right and wrong or to never give solutions to the children’s questions?

The answer is easy — use the New Age technique of values clarification. In this approach, nothing is ultimately right or ultimately wrong but rather each choice is left entirely to the individual child who makes the choice.

The rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by the individual’s values. As Project Charlie explains in the chapter on drugs, “Remind the students that their values affect their choices.

“Remember, it is not who is right and who is wrong. It is very difficult for us to come to a consensus on this activity. Similarly, it has been very difficult for us to come to a consensus on what kind of chemical use is responsible and what is irresponsible.

“We all have different values and ideas of what is right and what is wrong” (p.340).

Is this New Age values clarification ideology really the type of drug education program that Christian parent wish to have their children taught?

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