June is graduation time for high schools throughout the country. To counter what some parents fear is a night of unfettered
revelry, Project Graduation, usually organized by a group of caring and concerned parents, is designed to allow graduates
to celebrate their graduation night in a controlled, alcohol and drug-free setting.
To its credit, Project Graduation does what it was designed to do: keep the children alive.
For one night anyway.
What happens the next night, and the nights thereafter (like those in college), when the party urge is still there, but
there is no controlled environment?
The answer? Tragedies, usually. Some are immediate and some don't happen until months or even years later. The reasons
for the tragedies are many, but principal among them is what our society teaches its youth about alcohol--and especially about
While wine coolers and malternatives (like Zima, hard lemonade and hard cola) are also frequently abused, the beverage
of choice seems to be beer. Few high school or middle school kids would strap a funnel to their heads that was loaded with
No, the main propellant in party fuels seems to be Bud, Miller, Coors, Corona, et al. And when their parents and nearly
everyone else in authority tells them not to do it, you have a recipe for guaranteed abuse.
We have made beer, an ancient, nutritious beverage, taboo rather than an adjunct to our lives. Regulation of the use
of beer is absolutely essential; regulation does not mean abstention, but that's what we've been saying to young people for
The effects of that policy are evident in the headlines--and obituaries--of our newspapers. No one denies that abuse
of beer or other alcohol has negative consequences. How, then, to educate against its abuse while accepting the many benefits
beer can provide?
We are simply not educating American young people about the proper purpose and use of alcohol. Their ignorance of proper
alcohol use compels us to initiate things like Project Graduation. Perhaps if we took a different tack--from very early on
in youth-- a Project Education, if you will, we could obviate the need for one-night, stopgap measures like Project Graduation,
which, for all its success, is simply a temporary feel-good measure.
In Belgium, for example, where beer occupies a status much as wine does in France, young school children are given beer
during their recesses instead of milk. To be sure, it's not a strong alcohol beer. In fact, it's usually around three or four
percent, but it is beer and it is far more nutritious than milk. More importantly, its distribution by the authorities is
a clear message that beer has a legitimate place in society. That's an important lesson for youth to learn, and it's not one
that American youth are usually taught.
Telling youth to "Just Say No" means all beer use is by definition illicit. Perhaps that is why most Europeans, especially
those who have grown up with wine and beer readily available "en tabella" (on the table), see alcoholic beverage as an accompaniment
to meals rather than as an illicit drug designed to encourage--and excuse-- asinine and often dangerous behavior.
Beer has a 6000 year written history of being used as a social lubricant and as an important part of celebrations. Very
likely, it was used that way before writing was even invented. Like it or not, graduation falls under the heading of celebration.
No responsible person suggests that kids be permitted to celebrate with booze in an unsupervised setting, but that's what
they're doing after Project Graduation is over.
Rather than send their progeny to the seaside for an unsupervised weekend binge (hoping against hope that they'll do
the right thing), wouldn't parents be better off to have taught them at an early age what beer is for, how to enjoy it, and
when to say when? Hoping they do the right thing at least has a better chance that way.
American culture waits until the magical age of twenty-one to say that beer is OK, which guarantees nothing beyond taking
the excitement out of procuring and drinking beer, unless you count procuring it for underage drinkers. It would be far better
that children learn about the pleasures, benefits and dangers of alcohol from their parents (who may need to be re-educated
themselves) or responsible adults, rather than by watching and laughing at their buddies' antics after downing a case of Milwaukee's
Best in a half hour.
Simply put, America needs to rethink its approach, because the one we're using has failed. Does that mean that we should
substitute beer for milk at every American elementary school? No--at least--not yet. For one thing most people would say beer
doesn't go as well as milk with cookies. But that's only because they don't know that there are beers that go very well indeed
Like our funnel-headed adolescents, these folks need Project Education, too. It's time to move from "Just say No" to
"Just say KNOW."
Editor's note: Kurt Epps, an award-winning writer and consultant to the food and beverage industry, is a retired teacher
who taught High School English for 37 years.