Bennett's Lead Role in Ad Panned by School Critics
In scenes that aroused the ire of critics, the television advertisement depicts the Secretary peering into lockers where students have been shown concealing drugs and tequilla.
Secretary of Education William J. Bennett has unveiled a $225,000 advertising campaign in which he urges Americans to "slam the door on drugs in our schools." The Secretary stars in the public-service radio and television spots. In the latter, he is seen walking school corridors and slamming the door of a locker to illustrate his point.
The campaign is designed to enlist participation in the Education Department's program "Schools Without Drugs: The Challenge." The ads provide a toll-free number for ordering copies of the department's booklet on anti-drug-abuse programs.
At a news conference in New York City kicking off the campaign this month, Mayor Edward I. Koch and city school officials expressed doubts about the Administration's commitment to an anti-drug program whose funding it proposed halving next year.
"We are reviewing the funding right now," Mr. Bennett replied. "We are not going to be stingy."
Groups See 'Propaganda'
The ads themselves displeased the American Association of School Administrators and the National Association of State Boards of Education, whose officials last week issued similar statements criticizing Mr. Bennett for "portraying students as drug users and schools as a primary marketplace for drugs and alcohol."
"Everyone should be concerned that the department has used a legitimate program ... to further its propaganda objectives," the aasa statement said. "Drug and alcohol abuse are serious problems in our society. The schools did not cause those problems."
"We didn't say all kids use drugs, we said a lot of kids use drugs, and the evidence is there," responded Mr. Bennett, adding that there is also evidence that many students buy drugs in school.
The school officials are "just denying the problem," he continued. "Adults tend to underestimate this. Often school administrators have an interest in underestimating this."
The aasa particularly objected to a scene in which two students are shown concealing bags of marijuana and pills in their lockers, while a bottle of tequila is seen in a third locker.
A department spokesman stressed that the ads make no statistical statement about the prevalence of drugs in schools, and said an effort had been made not to show exaggerated amounts of drugs.
William Kristol, Mr. Bennett's chief of staff, added, "It's not like we sat around and said, 'How can we be hysterical about drugs?"'--jm