Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Monday, August 18, 2008
Can 100 college presidents be wrong? Well... yes and no.
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.
I have mixed feelings about lowering the drinking age, but I cannot say that I disagree with the sentiment the prohibition mentality regarding booze creates it owns set of problems, specifically binge drinking.

When I was a resident assistant in the dorms at the Culinary Institute of America in the 1990s (free room!!) the biggest problems I had had were related to severe binge drinking episodes by students aged 18-20. The trips to the local emergency room for alcohol poisoning became so routine that campus security seemed to be on a first name basis with all the ER staff.

I actually caught some grief for the Dean of Students during alcohol awareness week when, instead of a display showcasing the horrors of booze on my floor's bulletin board, I posted a simple note reminding my residents that they were in the food and beverage industry and had best learn to deal with alcohol on a rational and personal level. (Oh, ... And I mentioned that the school's zero-tolerance policy wasn't working. That didn't win me any awards with the administration.)

A few years back Williamstown Medical Associates stopped providing 24 hour on-call care at Williams College's health services clinic. The reason publicly given was higher insurance rates. The scuttlebutt around town was that they were constantly and primarily dealing with toxically-drunk kids at 3 in the morning. Liability may have played a role, but I suspect that babysitting a 19 year old who is puking her guts out after downing a liter of vodka and orange juice might have entered a few of the doc's thoughts.

It is my firm belief that if a person's formative experiences with alcohol are clandestine and illegal, that person has a higher chance of doing something severely stupid or having much bigger problems with alcoholism later in life. I have no data. I doubt such surveys exist. I just know what I've seen.

Until a decade, or so, ago, Wisconsin had a law on it's books that allowed a child aged 16 or above to have beer/wine at a restaurant if the kid was with his/her parents. The discretion was left to the bartender. Unfortunately Congress threatened to withhold federal highway money if the state did not adapt the zero tolerance, 21 year old approach. The law was changed.

To me, the old Wisconsin law makes a helluva lot more sense than saying; "At midnight you turn 21 and will magically gain the wisdom to handle your booze." Life doesn't work that way.
You cannot legislate social moral behavior. You can make laws, but by doing so most of the time you make things worse, ie: probation, blanket drug laws, gun control, etc. There has to be at least a modicum of common sense injected into the way lawmakers think, before they try to legislate the behavior of people. They have to have the balls to say to those social extremest ultra moral do gooders .....GO AWAY!
Binge drinking is a cultural problem that goes far beyond the specific problem because Americans are a binge culture — everything is too much, too fast. It's how we live. Binge drinking is a symptom.

I've always thought that the trade-off should be that for 18 to 22, you get either a liquor-buying license or a driver's license. You can't have both.

Anyhow, when I was a kid, drinking age was 18 in NY. We drank, sometimes to excess, often not. It really wasn't that big a deal. By the same token, the forbidden thing — pot — was what people went overboard for and, quite honestly, binged on. In fact, that's what turned me off pot entirely as a young man — watching people behave like that in regard to it was embarrassing. Perhaps I'd feel the same about booze in this current culture.
I like Wisconsin's idea, sort of a learner's permit for drinking.

As a kid we would always share some beer among the haying crew on a hot July day. As with so many things, being raised on a farm you were introduced to life in a much more manageable way.

I have wondered of late if the combination of zero jobs for teens and rising costs for farmers, if it wouldn't be a good idea to subsidize farmers for putting the kids to work. The kids would learn valuable life lessons, stay out of trouble, get exercise and help the farmers keep costs down.
CJ - as the son of a farmer, I've always said that, regardless of how quickly I wanted to get off the farm when I graduated high school, if I ever have any kids when they're old enough they're spending at least two weeks (and possibly a month or more) every summer back home.

At the rate I'm going, I probably won't have kids until after Dad is no longer farming, but my two brothers are vowing to keep farming, so any future kids can go hang with Uncle David and Uncle Brad for a while and learn a thing or two.

If they are old enough to serve in the military and die in a stupid war, then they should be considered old enough to vote and drink as well.

Or if they are not mature enough to drink, maybe they are not old enough to fight in a foreign war either. are O-so correct!
Some states used to allow beer (and some also wine) at 18, hard liquor at 21. Given that it's far, far less likely you will kill yourself in the short run (i.e., fatally overdose) with beer provided you stay away from driving, this seems a reasonable policy to me for college-aged students. Certainly there would be binge drinking, but there would be many fewer visits to the ER and the morgue.
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