John McCardell was president of Middlebury College. He dealt with quite a bit of binge drinking and stupid drinking by underage students. Because drinking was both widespread and illegal for most students, the college was in the worst-of-both-worlds bind. They could not successfully prevent all youth drinking, but only drive it more or less underground. And they could not legally teach students how to drink responsibly.
When McCardell retired as president, he decided to do something about it. He has created an organization, Choose Responsibility, to teach and license 18, 19, and 20 year olds to drink alcohol.
I think Choose Responsibility has a great idea, and I support it wholeheartedly.
I am a teetotaler. I will have a sip of champagne in a toast if my mom asks me to, but that is about it. I don't care for alcohol, and am Irish enough not to want to develop a taste for it. I don't think alcohol is immoral – Jesus made wine, so it can't be all bad – but I don't want to have it in my life.
Nonetheless, most of the people I know and respect do drink alcohol in moderation. Most students will try alcohol in college. Most young people will drink as a rite of passage as well as a social good in its own right.
What I worry about is binge drinking and drinking to get drunk. This is a problem on my campus, and just about every campus in America. For the non-collegiate young adults, drunken drinking is probably an even bigger problem, with fewer institutional controls.
I want those students who do drink to learn how to do it in moderation. I think the best resource that an educational institution has to achieve any goal with students is to teach about it. Moreover, I think that the faculty are, on the whole, an excellent source of examples of how to drink responsibly and moderately. Colleges miss a vital teachable moment when we do not teach students how to drink the right way.
The initial debate has been tangled up with the drunk driving debate, which is not really relevant. Student drunkenness is still a problem even if they don't drive. Leaving students to pick up their alcohol education in the gutter makes no more sense than leaving them to learn to drive covertly and by trial-and-error.
At this moment, the Choose Responsibility movement seems quixotic, but it is a good idea. Its time will come, and soon.