08/17/2012 02:12 pm ET Updated Oct 17, 2012

The Bottom of Our Barrel

Since the repeal of the 18th Amendment, we've given up on alcohol. Let me rephrase: we've given up on making it a healthy, sustainable part of our American culture. We've merely accepted it as some sort of necessary sin. But after vacationing in Sonoma and Pasa Robles, CA, my thinking on drinking has changed. And that's not just the Zinfandel talking.

After the drinking age was raised to 21, we congratulated ourselves on saving our youth from imminent destruction. No longer would we subject our poor, innocent 14 year-olds to the debauched drunkenness of our of-age high-school seniors. Oh, Reagan.

Instead, much like Prohibition, we have created an unhealthy, dangerous drinking culture in the United States. We treat drinking as a youthful indulgence, as a rite-of-passage for teenagers who are hopelessly insecure and misguided by our poor intentions.

After teaching in a suburban district for a year, and transitioning from an urban one, I wasn't shocked by most of the differences -- they were smaller than you'd think. But I was most shocked by how much suburban parents had given in to high school binge drinking.

I'm not old enough, nor naive enough, to pretend that drinking hasn't always been a problem. But it seems that now, as with a whole host of other social ills, we've given up. We accept that someone in every small town will die in a drinking-related driving accident. We accept that someone will have their stomach pumped. We accept that someone will pass out, and someone will tag it on Facebook, and someone will still go to college and have a happy, productive life.

But what do we do to ensure that this life is happy and productive? Little to nothing. The legendary binge drinkers of yesteryear become today's alcoholics and tomorrow's inmates. We spend so much time focusing on bath salts and faux-cannibalism that we forget about our oldest nemesis: alcohol.

Maybe I'm looking at California through wine-colored glasses as an envious, Purtianical East Coaster, but I'm not sure why we can't adopt some Wine Country wisdom: alcohol is meant to be savored, not guzzled.

Our institutions of higher learning in general have become bastions of booze. I'm not saying that recklessness shouldn't be a part of the college experience -- I'm saying that students are left to their own judgment to figure out when to stop. Whether that's at 22, or 26, or 36 -- we offer them, as a society, no real guidance. We don't ask friends to stop drinking in public, and we value those who can drink the most, and the fastest, while still working the hardest.

Alcohol education should be introduced at a much earlier age to our youth. It's not as though kids don't see drinking -- especially in advertisements -- but it's our job to educate them as to alcohol's benefits and detriments. Children shouldn't be exposed to drinking through a Bud Light commercial, and college students should be taught when and how to moderate. Our approach to alcohol should be intentional and realistic. But we don't test character, so it goes untaught.

Too many young people use alcohol to fill some deep emptiness inside of them, and we laugh it off as boredom or experimentation. If we stopped and paid attention, we'd realize that they're not just kids. They're almost adults, and they're counting on us to teach them more than numbers and words.