Real Live Prof

Every now and then I have to know how far out of touch I have become with the younger generations. Last week, as my mostly freshmen class in Intro to Soc finished a section over deviance, I had them watch a PBS Frontline documentary, entitled, “The Pot Republic” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/the-pot-republic/ ). The film is about the current debate over the legalization of marijuana in California for medicinal use. Many growers throughout the state legally grow marijuana for the ever expanding medical market. Apparently, a person visits with their doctor, who then writes them a prescription, which legally allows them to buy marijuana.

After viewing the film, I asked the class to respond to a threaded discussion question in our online grading system. The question was, “This film highlights the current debate about the legalization of marijuana in California. Do you think it should be legalized nationally? Or, should we only think in terms of legalizing “medical” marijuana? Or, conversely, treat it the same as alcohol (legalize it, tax it, and regulate it)? Finally, do you think someone who recreationally uses marijuana would make a great disciple and follower of Christ? (In other words, WWJD?)”

The answers were informative…when the students (42) were asked, “Do you think it should be legalized nationally?”, almost half (20) chose not to respond directly to the question. Of those who did respond, 7 were “neutral”, 6 were “yes”, and only 11 were “no, marijuana should not be legalized”. When the question was asked if it should be treated as alcohol, (“legalize it, tax it, and regulate it”), half of the 42 agreed with this approach.

Finally, when students were asked if recreational users would make, “a great disciple and follower of Christ”, the answers were informative, at least to my expanding generation gap. Roughly, 1/3 were neutral, 1/3 were “yes, they would make a good disciple”, and 1/3 were, “no, they would not make a good disciple.”

At this point you are probably expecting me to rail against the youth of America and how they are on a slippery slope of moral decay. This might end up being a diatribe, but against another subject. What I saw in their collective answers was a logical progression of their public school educations: multiculturalism. In part, multiculturalism asks us to not “pass judgment” on other cultures, and that we should show respect for all cultures as your culture’s equal. I think the net effect is seen in this casual “survey”. We seldom give an answer that is not qualified with, “in my personal opinion” clause. It is considered even more polite and correct to not give any opinion (after all, they are all equally valid). When I was young, issues were “polarizing”, meaning they split people into two camps. Now I think issues are “tri-polarizing”, meaning they split people into three camps…for, against, and “I would rather not say…”  This third camp was borne out when students justify their answers with the notion that using marijuana should be a personal decision that somehow would not affect others. Or, they would add that it is just their (current) personal opinion, which is subject to change.

I am sure some of the answers could be attributed to posturing (the whole class can read their responses). Some of the answers could be attributed to trying to please the grader with an answer they think he would like. Even so, the camp that bothers me the most are those who claim indifference. Surely they have an opinion. Their culture, however, forbids them to express an opinion that might be construed as negative, offensive, or even, impolite.

How would I have responded to the threaded discussion? I would rather not say…

MM

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Mark Miller

Associate Professor of Sociology at East Texas Baptist University

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