“Kid’s got a pot attitude”

“Kid’s got a pot attitude,” said Associate Head of School Rich Truluck ’88 following a less than inspiring Concern Meeting (a Hyde thing) with a 2nd year student.

Veteran faculty members in the room knew what he meant. If you’re wondering what it means, well…

Perhaps it is relevant to note that one of the most recycled blog posts in my own writing history has to do with this topic. In fact, I first wrote about it well before the word “blog” even became a thing. Back in my head of school days (1987-98) I used to write a newsletter called Malcolm’s Monthly. In the March 1995 issue — almost a quarter-century ago — I wrote the following:

There is a must-read trilogy for all headmasters: John McPhee’s The Headmaster (1966) tells the story of Frank Boyden’s 66 years (not a misprint!) at Deerfield; The Rector of Justin (1964) by Louis Auchincloss; and Richard Hawley’s The Headmaster’s Papers (1983), a novel written in the form of letters to and from a boarding school headmaster. A passage from Hawley’s book eerily synthesizes the uniformly negative experiences I have had in working with kids involved with drugs.

There was, at the beginning, real confusion about drugs, confusion about what sort of problem they were. We are no longer confused. We have had a good deal of experience now of students who smoked pot, took pills, inhaled cocaine, and so on, and as I say, we are no longer confused. Some of us here can remember school when there were no drugs whatsoever on the scene, except liquor which, killer and thief of human promise that it is, has at least been a familiar part of the social fabric of Western life since antiquity. As I say, some of us were working here before the drug scene, worked here through the early days of the drug scene, and are still here. The changes we have seen in drug-using boys are uniform. Let me summarize them as I see them.

  1. They do poorer school work and less of it than formerly, never better and more.
  2. They drop team and other organizational commitments; never add team and other organizational commitments.
  3. They initiate less activity not connected to getting and using drugs.
  4. They are harder to interest and arouse.
  5. They care less about non-drug-taking friends, about family, and about others in general than they did before their involvement with drugs.
  6. They do not perceive or attach feelings to dramatic personal and academic losses and may even claim that they are functioning better and thinking more clearly than before.
  7. They increasingly organize themselves socially around drug-taking and associate predominantly with other drug-taking friends, even when there is no other basis of shared interest.

…I know of no family or school where the corporate life has remained unaltered or been improved by drug use.

So, a “pot attitude” might be considered some combination of the above.

For years, I subscribed to the “rite of passage” argument: e.g., “kids will be kids”… or “Hey, we did it and look how we turned out” (no comment). Then I paid visits to both the Hazelden (MN) and Caron (PA) treatment centers. Leaders at both places showed me that the science is in and clearly shows that the developing (i.e., teenage) adolescent brain should not be ingesting mind-altering substances. And the longer that young adults can hold off on using them, the better their prospects will be for avoiding future debilitating substance abuse problems.  Since that discovery, I have doubled down on my efforts to do everything I can to dissuade teenagers from using marijuana, alcohol, or other drugs.

In some ways, the difficulty of this stance is magnified in today’s world for at least two reasons. For one, this is not your grandfather’s marijuana. In fact, it is several times more potent than that smoked during the Summer of Love or at Woodstock. For another, the latest methods of usage — vaping, juuling — have ushered in a clandestine privacy that can be extremely difficult to penetrate.

However, one feature of all this has remained constant throughout: That would be the pot attitude. And it is nearly always accompanied by options-limiting behavior.

Onward, Malcolm Gauld