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.

‘America’: the song, the phantasmagoria

If you really wanted to know (you don’t), Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘America’ is probably the greatest written song in modern music. This assertion is to its lyrics, and as a lyrical product – though I’ll briefly discuss how it’s music is a triumph itself.

Actually, let’s start there. If we are to follow that the form = content equation equals greatness, and we should, we see a proper matching here. The lyrics, a pastoral stitching of Americana episodes, are matched with music quite the same – a melodic stitching of highs and lows, of speeding up and slowing down; crashes and lithely stringings. Much as we are offered the glory of searching in America and growing along its fresh highways (we mustn’t forget how new the highways were in 1968), and as we are offered, simultaneously, the existential wail that comes along with that long, drawn highway, we are also given a music of happiness and scattered solitudes.

That’s the music. It’s great. But that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’m here because of the words. Paul Simon, and yes I’m assuming Paul – sorry Art – wrote in a three minute song what Keroauc tried to do in the entire On The Road. In all of his writing, really. And yes, I know Jack came first – but who cares. Keroauc needed drafts of a novel (read that, drafts) and really got nowhere as to what America is and was and should be, but rather threw together pages of self imbibing and denial and all the other scraps we called “Beat”. Ginsberg’s poem “America” is a great insight, but it’s a farce because he saw America as a farce, and was probably right.

But Mr. Simon, well he saw something in America that needed to be in a folk song. He saw the journey of two lovers, from Michigan to New York and in their journey he saw the near whole of America. Not geographically, of course, and not in simple representation, but in crazy plotlines that dot up the American citizenship.  He paints the true color of our American blood, a feat so extraordinary because that color can look so different at times, but runs true always.

What does this look like? Well, for one, Simon’s America isn’t caught up in the “mere accumulation of material things”, an omen the great Robert F. Kennedy dropped on this nation just a few weeks prior to ‘America’ being released.

Simon’s America is about so much more. It’s about people, it’s about love and lovelessness. Knowing where you are precisely, and not knowing where you are abstractly. It’s about Michigan as much as it’s about New York, and about America as much as it’s about its own narrator. It’s filled with episodes meant to illustrate the silliness of the road, the longing of the road, the two paths that diverge in the woods kind of road and the other drivers on the road, not realizing they’re on the road and heading nowhere. Keroauc, to use him again, had the metaphor of the road at his disposal. I’ll give him credit for that. But he fails to see the road does not need to be drawn out, that sentences to diagnose a true American fervor don’t have to be run-ons without commas or sense – they can be a simple song verse about a man who may or may not be a spy.

What I mean to say is that Simon uses images. He doesn’t need the  novel. America never needed the novel. Man, on the other hand, is as deep and non-episodic as to require thousands of years of prose to diagnose any kind of condition. We’re a simpler country and, even if we’re not, we’re a country that believes in the individual experience.

And that may be the greater point that even I’m missing. As perfectly summarizing as Simon’s verses are to his unique experience – of the two lovers finding their way Eastward, and of him finding out he is in fact lost – the true derivation of the whole endeavor here is written in the last lines….”they’ve all gone to look for America”.

Because as simple as someone wants to make this country, it and its meaning are not obvious. The two are far from synonyms here. Simon, like every other American, is searching for his version, his true nation and place of birth. And that America, like ever other American’s America is a phantasmagoria, a dream aloft in some clouds. Clouds getting pocked by the Manhattan skyscraper tips and spreading out along the Great Lakes and raining all over Saginaw and some miles away on an empty pack of cigarettes laying on the side of the highway after being tossed from a bus window.