Our education system has a responsibility to advocate public well-being, but that being said, there is a serious problem right in front of our eyes. The slogans of America’s anti-drug and anti-alcohol campaigns undermine and disrespect informed decisions.
Sometimes it’s as simple as placing an unnecessary “drug-free zone” sign on a grade school campus. It’s just one of hundreds of seemingly harmless expressions simmering in our collective unconscious.
While drug-free at least makes its point, it becomes challenging to justify other initiatives. The public-private partnership between the Nassau County Police Department and the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD) have come out with an advertisement about teenage girls that says, “Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Heroin. Everyone’s connected but no one seems to be getting the message.”
This is a shameless and poorly executed appeal that has far-reaching implications. They are assuming that anyone who doesn’t agree with sobriety is out of touch.
This becomes evident when the poster goes on to say, “Straight-A students, athletes, good kids: these are the new faces of a heroin user.” If good kids are the new faces of users, does that mean bad kids are being replaced? Why not call them hard-working instead? There’s a connotation here, and it’s that any drug use makes the user tainted, all drug use is abuse and all drugs must be avoided at all costs.
Unfortunately, Binghamton University is guilty of perpetuating similar disillusion when it comes to alcohol. Although I disagree with the Office of Student Conduct’s choice to classify drug misuse or drug dealing as a “dumb” thing to do, I can also see why it fits.
However, claiming to respect the student body’s right to make informed decisions while simultaneously threatening judicial action for those who do not complete the Alcohol-Wise course is not an enlightened solution. They are trying to tell students how to think rather than encourage students to reach their own conclusions.
A few subtle examples from Alcohol-Wise are telling. Upon reporting that I typically do not drink alcohol, an image of a thumbs-up appeared behind a body of text. As I interpreted, they were saying I made the correct choice. They could have replaced the thumbs-up with a morally unambiguous statement such as “you are making a healthy decision.” They made a distinction on the basis of right and wrong.
Keep in mind, objective statements are not always presented objectively. Certain statistics had ominous music playing in the background for dramatic effect. And on one slide, a drinking thermometer was used to measure blood alcohol content in bold red lettering. That doesn’t seem like an entirely straightforward approach.
This is not to say the destructive behaviors I’ve mentioned have not decreased in recent years. The National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health has convinced me that drug education is an important step in limiting drug abuse. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t get better results with more sophisticated methods. An honest agenda could be just as compelling.
The main goal of education is developing independent thinking skills. Meanwhile, countless prevention groups have subversive messages insisting that abstinence is the best or only choice. BU followed the lead by launching its own motto on T-shirts given to new students at convocation. “Be you at BU … The majority of BU students rarely, if ever, drink.” Good for them. We should all feel free and empowered to lead healthy lives. But why must moderation be counted out?
Being yourself doesn’t always require being part of the majority. Doing what’s good for you doesn’t always mean doing what’s in the best interest of the majority. The anti-advocates, who are admittedly well-intentioned, are injecting unbalanced tactics into their catchphrases. Let’s help them do a better job.