There’s a movement afoot to lower the legal drinking age from 21 to 18, and it’s being supported by an unlikely group:
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.
MADD is, of course, against this idea, as are some other university presidents. The rationale behind lowering the drinking age is familiar: College students are going to drink no matter what, and having the legal age set at 21 encourages a “culture of dangerous, clandestine binge-drinking”.
I’m not a fan of the “they’re doing it already, so let’s legalize it” argument in general , and I am certainly painfully aware of the tendency towards binge drinking on college campuses. But I think there’s a point to be made by the pro-18 crowd. Responsible alcohol consumption is a part of normative adult behavior for most people. Alcohol is not an illegal substance, and there is nothing inherently immoral, or even un-Biblical, about consuming alcohol in moderation. The problem comes in when people drink without moderation and outside accepted cultural norms — binge drinking, becoming dependent on alcohol. Does the drinking age being set at 21 rather than 18 moderate these negative behaviors? The research cited in the original article claims that doing so has reduced the number of drunk driving fatalities, which is good if it’s really true, but otherwise no evidence is presented that a higher legal drinking age makes the acquisition of normative social behavior of alcohol any more likely. Setting the legal age back to 18, on the other hand, might take some of the illicit appeal out of alcohol and help college-aged students learn how to consume in a responsible, adult way (maybe).
The main thing missing from this discussion is parents. Any discussion which does not consider the role of parents working with their kids on this issue when they are adolescents and teenagers is going nowhere fast. It’s as if the parties involved in the article aren’t even aware parents exist. Isn’t it obvious that passing a law is not going to solve the problem of irresponsible drinking on campus apart from parenting which has taught kids about alcohol and its responsible consumption at some point?
Another thing is true in this article — college administrators have to deal with the reality of irresponsible drinking head-on, regardless of what the legal age limit is, rather than blithely pretend that it doesn’t exist or that it’s just part of the college fabric. If the presidents here are really seeking to take on the task of helping young people learn how to be responsible, then great — but if they are just trying to define the problem of “illegal drinking” away by changing the legal age, then shame on them.