Oh look, it’s April 20 again. I think I’ll recycle this older post from a few years ago.
Hi folks. It’s the 20th of April, 4/20. Hands up, everyone who knows the significance of 4/20. Everyone who doesn’t (which would have included me, up till last year) can now be enlightened.
Before last year, there’s no reason I would have taken note of the number “420” even if I’d heard it — which I may well have, because teenage pot smokers often use the number as a coded way of referring to weed around parents and teachers who will be expected not to catch on. If I ever heard it, I’m sure I didn’t catch on.
That was before I started teaching at my current school, where nobody uses a coded way of referring to anything. Everyone’s issues are right out there — including drug use. This openness has its good sides and its bad sides, but one side effect is that last April, I had the significance of 4/20 — a sort of semi-universal celebration of marijuana smoking — explained to me by a student.
This year, I heard numerous references to 4/20 in student conversation. I didn’t make any direct comment to anybody about it. There were things I wanted to say, but I didn’t have my thoughts collected and assimilated. I didn’t have a good way to articulate or deal with the barely-suppressed rage I feel when I hear my students talking and laughing cheerily about celebrating a day in honour of weed.
Obviously there are a lot of issues around the use and legalization of marijuana that I’m not about to get into here. I haven’t got the space, in a blog entry, to go into these questions in the detail I deserve. I will say that since I don’t drink, not even the glass of wine with dinner, at least I can’t be accused of hypocrisy on the issue, which a lot of teenagers (perhaps fairly, perhaps not) accuse adults of. I will also say that I think the last thing our country needs is one more legal drug.
But what I really want to say is that nothing I encounter in my day-to-day working life (and believe me, I encounter it a lot) makes me angrier than the fact that marijuana has been sold and promoted to the youth of this generation (mostly by members of my generation) as the Harmless Natural Fun Drug.
I won’t argue about the long-term effects of marijuana use or whether it’s addictive — although if you can’t get through a five-hour school day without a draw, you might want to think about classing that draw in the category of an addictive drug. I will even attempt not to get into a fury-fuelled tangent about young people who believe that smoking pot is an effective way to self-medicate for anxiety disorders.
I’ll try to keep my focus simple here and concentrate on one thing: this supposedly Harmless Natural Fun Drug has one primary effect — not a side-effect, a primary effect — which enrages me. It’s a drug people smoke to “relax.” And heavy use of anything that “relaxes” you leads to passivity and apathy.
If there’s one thing a teenager doesn’t need to be, it’s passive and apathetic.
If there’s one thing that won’t help you get an education, or a job, it’s a drug that makes you passive and apathetic.
If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to keep a young person trapped in a lifestyle of poor education, welfare cheques and low-income housing, without the motivation or drive to ever look for anything better, it’s a drug that makes you passive and apathetic.
If there’s one thing that’s utterly destructive for the youth of an economically depressed area — a region completely dependent on the hard work and initiative of its young people to ever improve things — it’s the widespread use and acceptance of a drug that makes kids passive and apathetic.
Every day I work with young people who haven’t finished high school, who have gotten stalled in their attempts to complete their education and find jobs. The young people I teach range from average to well above average in intelligence and academic ability. Their backgrounds are diverse: they range from poor kids from low-income families, to the children of doctors and lawyers. But there are certain commonalities. If I were to list the top three factors that kept the young people I know from completing school, they would be:
1. Mental health issues
2. Marijuana use
3. Alcohol abuse
(I will, again, try not to get tangential about the ways in which #2 and #3 feed into and exacerbate #1, especially when they are used to self-medicate).
Even though marijuana use is still illegal in many places, its use has become so widely accepted and tolerated in society that references to it permeate popular culture. Yes, I know that there are lots of successful professionals, people my age — including teachers — who unwind by smoking a joint on the weekends just as they might unwind by having a beer. Maybe they’re not seeing the cost to the generation that’s growing up now.
But I see the cost. I see it every day.
I’m quite open with my students about the fact that my intense dislike for casual drug use doesn’t come from experience. I have never been stoned in my life; I’ve never even been drunk. Nor have I ever wanted to be. Sometimes they tell me, “You can’t possibly understand if you’ve never tried it.”
I can’t understand — not from their perspective. But I can understand what I see from my perspective — the waste of time, of youth, of energy and vitality and motivation. The loss of the ambition and focus they most need to succeed, in the name of being “relaxed.”
Leave aside the arguments about whether marijuana is a “gateway drug” that makes it easier for young people to use harder drugs. All by itself, without even bringing cocaine or heroin or acid into the equation, the allegedly Harmless Natural Fun Drug is capable of damaging a generation. Like any predator, it strikes at the weakest and most vulnerable in the pack — the kids who are already at-risk, already having trouble keeping up for various reasons — and eliminates them.
I don’t believe we can afford to lose these kids.
Last April, I learned what 4/20 signified. This year, I listened to my students talk about it and I mostly kept my mouth shut — except here in my blog, which I don’t think is read by a lot of hard-core pot smokers. Next year, I don’t think I’ll be able to keep quiet.
Okay — one tangent. While researching 4/20 online I found that April 20 (perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not) was the date of the Columbine school shooting in Littleton, Colorado. April 16, this year, was the date of the Virginia Tech shooting. Youth violence is a different, though not unrelated, issue from youth drug culture, and I’m not going to write a post about the Virginia Tech massacre except to say that so much of what’s being said about gunman Cho Seung-Hui echoes what was said last September about Kimveer Gill after the Montreal shootings. What I wrote then applies just as much now — and links to the subject of this blog only because both subjects break my heart and drive my need to get involved with and help kids in trouble — to do one small thing to prevent the big and small tragedies that litter the landscape of youth culture.