Keep the drinking age at 21


Thursday, February 22
One cannot totally separate out-of-school hours and community/home conditions from how well students learn in any classroom, so as an educator, I was disappointed to read in the Bennington Banner (2/16/07) that former Middlebury College President John McCardell is planning to work full time promoting lowering the drinking age to 18 in Vermont.

As if Vermont doesn't have enough of an image problem of late with the quick return of sex offenders to our streets and the national attention this has drawn.

Who in Vermont leadership is looking out for the safety and health of our young people? If McCardell thinks that raising the drinking age to 21 promoted binge drinking by young people, he spent too much time in his Middlebury office and not enough time with students. I studied, taught and worked on high school and college campuses during the time when the minimum drinking age was 18. The amount of binge drinking that took place in fraternity houses, dorms and other facilities located on the campuses then was largely ignored by presidents, and, in my opinion, was much worse than what occurs today.

There is no question that the number of drinking parties involving our high school students dropped precipitously when the drinking age was raised to 21. During the 18 year drinking age era, in the high schools in which I worked, we had at least one tragic death or accident attributed to underage drinking each year.

I used to dread prom night and graduation night, because of the frequency of alcohol-related accidents and deaths after those events. I've attended well over 20 funerals of high school students who died in alcohol-related accidents or events, and I don't want to attend any more. All night prom and graduation parties such as the all night graduation party we have at MAUHS after graduation have helped reduce the number of these tragedies. Businesses and people who donate and work to support this MAUHS event deserve our thanks, because they are helping kids have a good time and providing a safe environment in which to celebrate.

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How does a college president tell parents that the 18-year-old child they sent to college is dead due to an alcohol-related incident? How does a college president tell a parent that their child has been referred to Alcoholics Anonymous and a counseling program to deal with an alcohol problem that is already out of control?

Apparently McCardell would tell them that if their kid had only taken a Vermont course on how to drink, he or she might still be alive or might not have an addiction problem. Former president McCardell needs to take a second look at this issue and spend his time helping young people, rather than enabling them to develop a lifestyle that is alcohol dependent when they are still in their teenage years.

He also needs to "stop it already" with his flawed logic and attempts to convince people with irrelevant analogies. Comparing an 18-year-old's decision-making at a weekend party to jury duty or military service is ridiculous. People who serve on juries are given strict guidelines for behavior after they pass jury selection screening. The U.S. military has some rather strict rules too, and they still send MPs into towns and private establishments to "help" their members make good decisions when they are on liberty.

To assume that lowering the legal drinking age to 18 will reduce alcohol abuse is nonsense, and taking a course about alcohol and how to drink is even sillier. If McCardell knew how many middle school students were involved in drinking parties, I wonder if he would suggest that we lower the drinking age to 14, and try to "educate" those students about responsible drinking? If we really want to help young Vermonters, lowering the legal drinking age to 18 is not the way to do it, but doing everything we can to help kids make good decisions during their formative years is.

Students learn more and learn better when they have clear heads and healthy bodies, and we currently teach this in our health education classes in all of our SVSU schools.

Wesley Knapp is superintendent of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union.


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