I don't always agree with college presidents--that's part of being a faculty member, I think, part of the contract--but these people are right. The drinking age in the US, if we have to have one at all, should be 18 instead of 21.
The argument is pretty simple to me--if we as a society are going to set a bright line for adulthood at 18, then the ability to consume and purchase alcohol ought to be a part of that. By restricting that ability based on nothing other than age, we're discriminating against a segment of society--it's ageism, only against the young.
And spare me the platitudes about the idea that they're not old enough to drink responsibly. That's crap. Whether or not a person drinks responsibly has lots to do with their personalities and very little to do with their ages. If age conferred wisdom with regards to alcohol consumption, we wouldn't have people in their 50s spending the night in the drunk tank after thinking the lights on the top of the cop's car were part of the disco. (Hat tip to Bill Hicks.)
So for those reasons alone, I think it would be a good idea to change the drinking age, but there's also the matter of binge drinking. For starters, as I've written before, the definition of binge drinking is a bit silly.
A binge drinker was defined as someone who had five or more alcoholic drinks on at least one occasion in the last 30 days.I have friends who call five drinks the start to a good tailgate party, or an average evening at the club--a club they've been at for four hours, I might add. But I have no doubt that for kids my daughter's age--and she's a college freshperson this year--they rarely stop with five, and it's likely there's a little action of another kind going on as well, at least if they're looking to get obliterated.
It's the goal that's the problem. I'm a firm believer in the idea that the best way to get kids interested in doing something is to make it taboo. If you want them to think it's not a big deal, offer it to them. I think that lots of kids in college binge drink because they don't know what to expect--they're inexperienced, and don't realize what the alcohol has done to their reflexes and motor skills. But the answer isn't to drive them underground--it's to train them so they know what to expect.
So I suggest a change in the law, but not simply a lowering of the drinking age. I suggest a licensing exam for alcohol consumption--no charge--where a person who becomes a legal adult has to take a series of classes that teach the effects of alcohol on the human body, including practicals where the student has to drink and try to perform various tasks in a state of inebriation. (No doubt that will be the most popular part of the course.) And in order to get your drinking license, you have to pass a test on the subject--more of a formality than anything else. Education is the answer, I think.
One other point. In the article I linked above, the national president of MADD had this to say:
"It's very clear the 21-year-old drinking age will not be enforced at those campuses," said Laura Dean-Mooney, national president of MADD.Most campuses are alcohol-free or alcohol-restricted zones these days, Miss Dean-Mooney, and that's not going to change if the state legislation governing drinking ages changes. Furthermore, no university is going to risk the lawsuits that would follow a refusal to enforce state laws. That you would stoop to this kind of dishonest rhetoric does your group a disservice.