Data Correlation, Education, and Cannabis

I can’t imagine this is the last time I’m going to see the contents of this article brought into discussion.

I’ll sum it briefly: a study found that kids who smoked marijuana were significantly less likely to graduate high school and even less likely to graduate from college. The likelihood decreased with more consistent use of the drug.

The study implies correlation and causation. The journalist in the linked article does a good job of at least addressing why this might be a misconception and, more importantly, how easy it’s going to be for this data to be misinterpreted. His sentence, “You can expect these findings to be highly cited by opponents of liberalized marijuana laws, like the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Smart Approaches to Marijuana project. But it’s important to put them in proper context.” is spot on.

I hope the causality idea is at least questioned. Is it the marijuana smoking that makes a student less likely to graduate? Or are students that might, for one reason or another, be destined not to graduate drawn more to using the drug? It’s worth asking as a qualifier to this.

A few more things come into play here. Education is used as a hallmark here of accomplishment in a completely one-size-fits-all manner. I don’t have to list the accomplished people we know that didn’t graduate from school (or *cough* the famous folks who have admitted to smoking marijuana). (In this way, the finding that smokers were 7x more likely to be depressed is much more important — but, again, what’s the causation here?).

If we can continue to look at educational achievement as the only standard idea of success, we’re not going to do any favors for our youth. The education system already does a disservice to rebellious minds. It clenches these students in its fists and attempts to squeeze out the creativity in them ( to be so emphatic about it) — so it’s no wonder that the lost souls look for other avenues for that creativity. This where the study comes back to. What sustains these kids? And how are we so damn sure that they won’t be successful — so much so that adults are telling other adults to look at marijuana smoking as a sign of some kind of failure.

But this is a system-based assessment. In the pantheon of American life, education still remains king. Learning does not. No one seems to care if one discovers something wonderful outside of school. Or learns a skill late one night while doing something that might be considered mischievous. Why can we not look at learning as something outside of education? What hurts most about this study isn’t the correlation problem, it’s this idea. Personal success can be had outside of our precious system, can it not?

So we continue on (like boats against the current) thinking that the only judge of a successful kid is his/her success in this system we went through ourselves. We see it as a future-looking prism to cast life success (and we won’t get into what the hell that means).

I suppose it’s summed up like this: we label some students as “underachievers” without considering that the system has failed them. The system, rarely, is called out for its own under achieving, but that weight is put constantly on students and faculty alike.

The kicker is that this actually relates to the study aside from just illuminating our ability to separate a system from a reality. It also shows what damage that system can have. Now we have a somewhat demonized group of kids, who are experimenting with drug use — and I’m certainly not condoning that here — but are further being ostracized and pushed away because they aren’t doing well in schools. The system isn’t going to enhance those that are failing at it. It’s not built that way. It merely sustains the class system it’s rooted in and meant to continue on.

My worry is that all of this is combined into one big misunderstanding. There are the “underachievers” and the “potheads” and this study makes it too easy to loop those together — with one big group that the system can reject. And with the large majority of us complacently buying into that system, we’ll leave them behind. My hope, then, is that this group — rejected at such a young age — can figure out not to define its own success of these silly metrics.