Last week a story broke in Canada that would make the rounds on social media as chuckle-worthy clickbait – the headline read something along the lines of “Teacher Taught His Class How to Make and Inject Crystal Meth.” Once you clicked on the article, usually complete with a photo of Bryan Cranston in character as Walter White from Breaking Bad, it would give some vague detail about how a teacher in Canada gave his class instructions on how to cook and inject crystal meth. They usually cover the teacher’s subsequent suspension.
And sure, it’s funny. You shake your head and think, ‘What a crazy world,' and you move on.
Not me. I saw this story day after day from news outlets ranging from Vice to ABC. A surprising number of regional papers picked it up. I read every one. I can confidently declare myself the pre-eminent media expert on this particular story. What I started to notice was that they were startlingly similar. Indeed some were identical. They were all truncated versions of the story run by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, ones that left out the detail that this was part of a group assignment to prepare skits about drugs.
The story broke when Mississauga resident Delight Greenidge went to the press after learning that her son had been assigned to create and perform a skit about crystal meth. She was particularly upset when she found two pages of ‘instructions’ on how to make and take the drug, and that her son had been assigned the role of ‘injector.' She went on to say, “You teach your kids not to have any association with drugs on any level. We don’t talk about drugs in our household.”
This quote is absent from almost all coverage of this story but I think it is the most illuminating. Mrs. Greenidge not only thinks that this assignment is inappropriate but is more broadly against even the discussion of drugs at home or at school. On this basis, I’m siding with the poor suspended teacher.
First, let’s debunk the whole notion of ‘instructions’ on how to make crystal meth. A Google search of “how to make crystal meth” yields 2.5 million results. There are plenty of ‘instructions’ out there on how to cook meth, however most are notional, explaining the theory behind meth production but not supplying any quantities or processes. The sources that do provide step-by-step recipes (always longer than 2 pages) require materials that I wouldn’t know how to get my hands on, and even if I could would be a huge expense. The notion that a 13-year old could somehow follow these instructions to produce meth is ridiculous, as is the notion that knowledge of the process will make kids want to cook meth. There is no danger inherent in the information that was dispensed in the classroom.
Second, the Ontario curriculum mandates a discussion about drugs in 8th Grade, necessitating that students be able to “identify and describe the warning signs of substance misuse or abuse, addictions, and related behaviours (e.g., changes in behaviour, gradual withdrawal from social circles, a drop in academic performance) and the consequences that can occur.” It seems to me that a little skit about meth followed by a class discussion is an effective way to get kids to understand the implications of hard drug production and use. So, the depictions in the media of this teacher as a wild card handing out bad-taste meth assignments, rather than someone educating within government guidelines, are off-base, to say the least.
Lastly, this kind of familiarity with drug and alcohol abuse is not the problem. The no discussion at home is the problem. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Drug education and information for parents or caregivers reinforces what children are learning about the harmful effects of drugs and opens opportunities for family discussions about the abuse of legal and illegal substances.” So don’t blame the teacher.
It is incumbent on the parent to provide reinforcement at home for what is learned in the classroom. If you ask me, the teacher is doing their part, or would have had they not been suspended before the assignment could actually take place. The failure here is on the part of Greenidge’s ostrich approach to drugs; if we never mention it, then it won’t happen. But her son is going to learn about it; he’s 13. He is at the age when the MPAA has decided it is appropriate to have brief references to drugs in movies he’s allowed to see by himself. He’s about to go to a school where drugs will almost certainly be available and offered to him, maybe even crystal meth. Would he not be better prepared for that world if someone had bothered to talk to him about the risks associated with meth use?
Or is it preferable to gamble that he will never encounter drugs and so his total ignorance will never be an issue? That’s not the world I grew up in or the high school I went to.
What’s really ground my gear about the whole story is that it’s making me sympathize with the people who say the media is completely untrustworthy. There was ample opportunity for any of the dozens of outlets who published this story to do some investigating, take a position, and ask some critical questions. None did – and so this story will live on largely as a funny piece of clickbait about a teacher who taught students to make crystal meth. Except that never happened.