Chug, Chug


October 15, 1991|By RICHARD REEVES

LEWISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA — Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. - Students going to parties on the Bucknell University campus here have to check their six-packs at the door, Dodge City-style, then they are given tickets for each can of beer, which they can redeem to get their brew. But they can cash-in, or beer-in, only one ticket per hour.

It's an experiment to try to control undergraduate drinking. My first instinct was to laugh, thinking back to my own foamy days at Theta Xi. ''Yeah,'' said John Miller, a professor of management, ''the kids hate it.''

Then I remembered that I'm a parent now. I stopped laughing. I want schools to have rules and enforce them, particularly when it comes to my children and to drinking and driving. I also learned that this is a very big issue at colleges across the country today, and at high schools, too -- as it should be.

But, boy, this is a tough one. I spent time a year ago at one of America's best high schools, Edina High School, in a Minneapolis suburb. Parents in Edina, I was told, backed up teachers and administrators on any rules or discipline -- anything that will help their kids move up to the Ivy League -- except when it came to drinking.

''Where's your proof?'' was the usual answer from parents when teachers or administrators reported their kids were slipping out to the parking lot for a beer or a belt between classes. Mom and Dad more often than not considered attacks on alcohol were attacks on them -- their lifestyle, their status as role models for their own children.

So, once again, the better parents of America want teachers to vTC handle the tougher part of child-rearing, but to do it without questioning parental righteousness or example.

The drinking must be pretty bad, very bad, in this younger generation, because the last thing school administrators like to do is confront students and parents at the same time. More often than not, teachers and principals, presidents and deans lose those fights. When it comes to schools, the taxpayers are always right, to say nothing of tuition-payers.

Drinking in the United States has been declining ever since the electric light gave Americans better things to do at night. These days reduced drinking, by adults anyway, also has to do with health and a sense of mortality -- and perhaps even religion.

Alcohol in immoderate amounts obviously does bad things to your body. Many people, I think, no longer subscribe to the kind of religious beliefs that prepare one to accept death as a natural thing. So now we are all trying to cheat death by drinking mineral water -- maybe a little white wine.

Most kids, on the other hand, see themselves as being immortal. That's why it's so much fun for many of them -- and such a tough problem to confront. Certainly, 19-year-olds do not think one more beer is going to make the difference between life and death.

But my guess is that as crazy or beatable as some of the new rules seem, young people will also be drinking less and less. Education modifies behavior, a fact my generation learned to our astonishment when millions and millions of us gave up smoking because we believed it was killing us.

So, I would guess that no matter how tough it is, we will figure out ways to curb the youthful alcohol abuse of our children. They are precious to us.

On the other hand, the other side of the American coin, I wonder whether we will ever put the same kind of mass effort into really trying to curb the drug abuse of other people's children -- poor children by every definition.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

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