Defending People readers know that I am not fond of MADD. There are huge opportunity costs and unintended consequences inherent in a single-issue advocacy organization having the political power that MADD has.
Now, using a little bit of that stick to bring a county criminal court judge in to talk to high school juniors about driving while intoxicated is a great idea. Such a judge sees hundreds of 17– and 18-year-olds a year in his courtroom because of DWI charges, among other things. He might be expected to talk straight with he students about the very real damage done by alcohol and drugs. And, indeed, it seems that even MADD didn’t have the arrogance to expect him to say what they wanted:
“It’s very difficult,” said MADD Southeast Region Executive Director Bridget Anderson [who wasn’t there for the talk]. “A judge has their own views and they talk as they choose. We can’t monitor and script them on what they say.”
Channel 13 relates, however, that “what was said” by Judge Larry Standley (one of my favorite judges) in his talk to Clear Springs High School juniors “has students and Mothers Against Drunk Driving angry.” I guess we’ll have to take Channel 13’s word for MADD’s reaction since Anderson’s words don’t match Channel 13’s characterization.
What were the words that allegedly made MADD mad? According to one anonymous student:
He started going on about how he’s done plenty of things before, weed and what not .… How he’s drove drunk and never got caught. He then started asking us to raise our hands if we’ve ever smoked week or done bars. First of all, our student body finds it offensive that he stereotypes us as drunks when we’re only 16 or 17. I find it quite offensive.
That’s the best you can do, Channel 2? At least Channel 13 was able to find a student offended enough to go on camera and ascribe her indignation to the rest of her class:
All I knew was someone was going to be talking to us about drunk driving .… I think his first question was, “Who in here smokes marijuana?” .… He said that drunk driving was bad and that he’s done it once before, but didn’t get caught .… . It offended me when he stated the fact that most of us kids were going to go out and get drunk during spring break, to just not do it while we were driving.
Let me dispense first with the self-righteous teenagers (is that redundant?): if the shoe fits, wear it. You might not smoke weed. You might not drink. (You might, on the other hand, be putting on a big show for your parents, but I hope for your sake that you aren’t—drugs, including alcohol, are really bad for a developing brain.)
But Judge Standley wasn’t directing his comments only at you. Not all of your classmates are pristine. Some people in your class smoke marijuana, do bars (xanax) and drink alcohol. It’s safe to say that in the last year more than 20% of your classmates have smoked marijuana and more than half of them have drunk alcohol.
“Most” might be a little hyperbolic, but get off your high horse: if they drank alcohol in the last year, it’s not a huge stretch to think they will drink alcohol next week. And if Judge Standley’s straight talk makes an impression on even one of your 500+ classmates and keeps him from getting behind the steering wheel after drinking, it’ll have been worthwhile. Your so readily taking offense reflects poorly on your sense of your own importance.
Which brings us to the grownups. According to Channel 2:
Clear Creek Independent School District officials said the talk was too much.
“Judge Standley’s comments and remarks were not in line with the district’s policy on drug and alcohol abuse … and it certainly doesn’t reflect the opinions of the students,” the district said in a statement.
Here’s a news flash from a lawyer who has represented lots of kids in alcohol– and drug-related cases: your policy on drug and alcohol will not stop kids from drinking. The NIDA statistics I linked to above are a better gauge of student opinion than whatever they’re telling the school district. 30% of your juniors and 43% of your seniors have used alcohol in the last month.
There are two approaches to kids and temptations. MADD, Clear Creek Independent School District, and most of society take the abstinence approach: tell teenagers not to drink / smoke weed / whatever, and pretend that they are going to comply.
Judge Standley takes the realistic approach: encourage teenagers not to drink / smoke weed / whatever, assume that they are probably going to do it anyway, and try to mitigate the damage.
The comments on the Channel 13 news story are telling. For example:
I am also a student at Clear Springs High School. I belive that this judge was unlike the MADD association in that he was not completely nieve, he knows as well as we do that most of the poeple in our grade level WILL smoke weed and WILL get drink alcohol. He gave us enough respect to be honest with how he felt on the situation and made it very clear to NOT find ourselves behind the wheel while intoxicated. Parents, get over it .…
I am a student at Katy High School and i can tell you that if the judge talked to the students in the manner that parents and MADD expected, students wouldnt pay attention and just talk. I would do it. If a government official would talk to us and be honest i would listen. Because he DID KNOW that majority of kids DO SMOKE WEED AND DO DRINK. if anything parents should thank him because apparently people listened to him.
The abstinence approach is naive, and does not work. Judge Standley’s realistic approach may not work either, but it isn’t naive, and at least the kids will listen.