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Expanding education: A winning proposal

By Daniel M. Ryan
web posted July 27, 2009

For too long, our moralizing society has tolerated a sad gap in life education. Because of old-fashioned prejudices and various repressions, we are forced to learn a very human skill in back-woods settings under clouds of secret shame. Lacking proper pedagogical supervision, we unthinkingly pass on taboos and easily enter into misconceptions. Many of them saddle unneeded guilt or shame on us, and sometimes provoke us into defiant frenzies. We have received and long used the undenied benefits of education in intellectual subjects and needed skills, but our latent Puritanism has blocked us from the benefit of pedagogy in areas that touch on pleasure.

This life activity, a vital part of human society, is alcohol consumption.

First of all, let us be realistic and acknowledge that almost everyone does it. There are people whose moral values are so strong, so rigid, that they never drink any alcohol in their lives. They are few in number in our modern society, though. We all respect moral strength, but an exaggerated respect leads to others swallowing inappropriate values. The overvaluation of a strict sobriety has turned what would otherwise be an admirable quality, in some, into a manufacturer of taboos. Taboos that not only impede learning, but ordinary common sense also.

Since the public school is a public trust, and since not all students will go on to the same post-secondary education options, the most appropriate venue for alcohol education is high school.

High school it has to be, because adolescence is often a time of confusion. Taboos weigh down, and a need to defy them bubbles up. It is already known that the public school system has a social responsibility to provide adolescents with outlets and to mold them for happy lives as citizens. Working in a class devoted to the informed use of one of society's social lubricants can only make civil society more civil, even for those who values or life choices make them abstain.

If we must have abstention, make it an informed abstention! What could be more discussable than this obviously sensible maxim?

Some misguided people may object that teaching an affirmational use of alcohol means that the school system is sanctioning drunkenness. Taboos die hard, and so does associated unreasonableness. The kind of unreasonableness that blocks out a vision of laughing, self-confident teenagers no longer awkward in preparing to explore their rights. It is true that high school seniors are significantly under legal drinking ages in all North American jurisdictions. It is also true that all of them are years away from career choices. And yet, we prepare them for the gusto of a self-fulfilling career long before they reach it. We also teach children how to work, even though child-labor laws prevent them from doing so until much later in their lives.

I realize that this proposal, despite its inner cheeriness, will invite unsought controversy. Although some may consider me mad, I believe that there will be some taboo-ridden unfortunates who will accuse us of paving the way for teaching children in the same art. There will be wild tales about elementary-school teachers, a generation hence, giving small children juice-filled beer bottles to drink from. We will be affixed with moralistic labels like "secret drunkard." There will be fevered tales about us secretly desiring to invite teens over for drunken parties. All progressive have had to face such retrograde criticism, ones that are a challenge to take seriously. Who except for a sorry, self-deluded moralist would seriously claim that the schools will ever contain instructors that sanction law-breaking, that our desires will get the better of our professionalism?

The school is a public institution. Hence, it is very far-fetched to assume that a school can be a force destructive of social order. We obey laws; we know we have to. Hence, the claim that we would be agents of moral decay is ridiculous.

It is high time that we cast off plain backwardness, however well-meant. We must meet wild scare stories with solid professionalism. We must show how misguided people are when they accuse us of irresponsibility. 

It is not yet the time when we can merely chuckle over emotional stories of school-caused epidemics of teenaged tippling. We have a job to do, to move the school system further into the modern age and society further away from repressions and superstitions.

Our own children, including the children that will carry on our mission a generation hence, will thank us for widening their horizons. In that happy day of the future, our present repressions will seem merely silly. We owe it to society to pave the way for the day when a few harmless tipples trigger no moralizing, of any kind. It is then we will see the full measure of what our school system can and will accomplish. Thank you. ESR

Daniel M. Ryan blogs these days about low P/E stocks.


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