Wednesday, August 20, 2008

From the "Hunh?"-Files

As I was perusing the headlines from NewsOk.com, I found this article:

College presidents seek to lower drinking age to 18


By Justin Pope
Associated Press Writer
College presidents from about 100 of the nation's best-known universities, including Duke, Dartmouth and Ohio State, are calling on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, saying current laws actually encourage dangerous binge drinking on campus.

The movement called the Amethyst Initiative began quietly recruiting presidents more than a year ago to provoke national debate about the drinking age.

"This is a law that is routinely evaded," said John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont who started the organization. "It is a law that the people at whom it is directed believe is unjust and unfair and discriminatory."

Other prominent schools in the group include Syracuse, Tufts, Colgate, Kenyon and Morehouse.

That next to the last paragraph made me choke on my coffee. Dr. McCardell (PhD in history) has started an initiative to lower the age of legal alcohol consumption. He wants to reset it to 18. And his argument here defies all logic, at least as I understand it.

A.) Well, since the law is evaded, we should change it. I see where his argument is coming from. College years are well known for the drunken parties attended by many underage drinkers. Even high school years are filled with drinking and drug use. Redundant since they are in the same category, I know. And since we have people already ignoring the law, then it seems to Dr. McCardell that the law is meaningless as it currently stands.

I'm curious if he feels the same way about capital crimes. I mean, how many homicides were there in 2007? How many cases of rape or child abuse? Since people don't seem to want to follow these laws, then perhaps we can just adjust them to bring those people to a more comfortable place.

B.) "It is a law that the people at whom it is directed believe is unjust and unfair and discriminatory." Is this another civil rights issue? Almost all people who break the law think that the law is unfair, unjust, and discriminatory. How many people think that police officers are harassing them when they obviously are in violation of the law?

And then there was this little quote from a former student:

Moana Jagasia, a Duke University sophomore from Singapore, where the drinking age is lower, said reducing the age in the U.S. could be helpful.

"There isn't that much difference in maturity between 21 and 18," she said. "If the age is younger, you're getting exposed to it at a younger age, and you don't freak out when you get to campus."

Great reasoning on this. If we cause alcohol to be exposed to people at a younger age, they won't "freak out". Then let's start putting a keg in school lunch rooms. Let's offer wine coolers next to the chocolate milk. In my observation (mostly having been through it myself) there isn't that much difference in maturity between an 18 and a 12 year old (males, anyway).

I am not downplaying that this is a difficult societal problem. Underage drinking is serious business. But lowering the age doesn't change the problem. The problem isn't the age, it is the alcohol. Colleges are having to face reality, not because of the number of students getting drunk. They are having to face reality because of the number of students dying due to drinking. And these students are underage.

Colleges have some accountability to face in this problem. Dr. McCardell is wanting to escape culpability and responsibility. By lowering the legal drinking age, alcohol consumption becomes an issue for an adult of consenting age. The school has no liability for what a legal adult does. But there is a huge liability issue when it is someone underage.

You see, we entrust colleges and university with our most precious gifts: our children. And while they are away at college, we believe that the colleges will be a safe environment for them. But that is not the case.

Every year there is a posting of the best colleges and universities. Included in those lists, and usually promoted quite heavily on the news media outlets, are the top party schools. Does anyone believe that they are referring to schools that have the best classes in baking, cake decoration, event planning, and interior design? And you can bet that when those schools make that list, there is an increase in the admissions office for possible enrollment from just about to graduate seniors.

You also have to face the real issue of colleges and universities allowing, profiting, and promoting the sale of alcohol at sporting events. NCAA football and beer go hand in hand. There are some schools that are making the bold move of prohibiting the sale of alcohol. But it is not a widespread movement, yet.

Again, it is not the age of the person who is drinking that is the problem. It is the rampant promotion of drinking that society really needs to confront.

I'm not completely against alcohol. I have had a drink or two over my 38ish years. And I am not completely opposed to others drinking. But I do stand opposed to the idea that alcohol is a harmless substance. I stand opposed to the promotion of alcohol to the general public as a recreational substance. I stand opposed to the alcohol and advertising industries avoiding any blame in the problems of underage drinking and alcoholism. They provide and promote a product that they know is directly linked to societal problems, yet leave culpability in the hands of the individual.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, stood in opposition to the alcohol industry. While he was not a complete tee-totaler, he argued against the production, sell, and imbibing of spirituous liquors. In his pamphlet, On the Present Scarcity of Provisions (1773), Wesley linked the shortage of corn, wheat, and barley for food directly to the distilling industry. In his sermon, The Use of Money, Wesley admitted to medicinal benefit of liquor but also boldly laid the death of people due to alcohol consumption at the feet of England's distillers. In A Word to a Drunkard Wesley exhorts the alcoholic that their choice has led them to become a beast and has robbed the nation, God, and Christ of a valuable life asset.

I don't think that prohibition is the answer. It didn't work before. And alcohol has been around for thousands of years in one form or another. We are talking about something that has been a part of human society from the foundation of civilization. But we also have to be serious in considering that there is a serious problem. Our children will inherit it. But will they be sober enough to work to change it?
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