Monday, August 18, 2008

I Didn't See This One Coming

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.

When I got to West Point, I think any cadet could drink--I certainly don't remember being carded. Remember, military facilities are not bound by state law, and the DoD could make whatever drinking policy it wanted. My junior year, though, the local policy changed--you had to be 21 and a senior to drink.

Stupid change.


michael mazenko said...

This issue, and the position taken by the university presidents, begs the question of how effectively we can legislate behavior and whether legalizing a behavior makes it less dangerous. It is our culture's unhealthy attitude toward alcohol that encourages binge drinking, not current laws. I concur that some students "load up" with alcohol before going out, but a lower drinking age will not suddenly create a society where college students are drinking casually (and in less quantity) in bars under the watchful eyes of police and university administrators.

While there is a legitimate argument that an individual who is a "legal adult" at the age of eighteen should have access to full rights and privileges, it is a bit of a non sequiter to associate military service with alcohol consumption. The argument that if a young man/woman is going to fight and die for his/her country, he should be able to legally get drunk before he goes is irrational. What does one have to do with the other? Additionally, though I know it is not the primary reason for the law, there is significant research that shows considerably greater damage to brain development in consumption before the age of about twenty-one.

The argument that "everybody's doing it anyway" has never been a valid position for legalizing behavior. To paraphrase Rush Limbaugh on handing out condoms to kids: "If kids are going to do it anyway why doesn't the state provide a dorm full of in-house, disease-free hookers, with ample supplies of drugs and alcohol, for students to have safe relations with under the watchful eye of government nurses and administrators."

A ridiculous argument to say the least.

Dennis Fermoyle said...

In an ideal world, I would say that there should be no drinking age. I firmly believe that teaching young people how to handle alcohol should be a parents' responsibility. As it is now, we tell kids, "Don't drink, don't drink, don't drink," and then they go off to college and go nuts. Parents just have to hold their breath and pray that their kids don't kill themselves or do something to ruin their lives. As a teacher and coach, I also resent being expected to enforce laws that many adults don't really believe in. I mean, how many times have you seen situations where underage people are drinking and responsible adults look the other way?

The problem is that we don't live in an ideal world--we live in America, and the culture we have is something that isn't going to change soon. A few years ago, I had a foreign exchange student from Germany. She said that it is common practice for high school students there to go to bars after school, but they drink very responsibly. She told the story of an American foreign exchange student who showed up in Germany, and when she would go out with the German kids to the bars, she would consistently get hammered.
Surprise, surprise! If we ever got rid of our drinking age, or if we even lowered it, I'm afraid the results would not be good.