It’s my contention that you can use anything to educate children, especially teens, as long as it’s interesting and the truth. And the truth is where government abstinence programs like those trippy Above the Influence commercials fall short.
The truth is that Jimi Hendrix drank and used drugs. The truth is that Jimi Hendrix probably had a lot of fun drinking and using drugs, and there is a high probability that his drinking and drug use influenced and enhanced his music the same way drinking and drug use influenced the works of hundreds of writers and poets like Edgar Allen Poe and James Joyce. It also left him dead at 27, asphyxiated by his own vomit.
The reason the work of William Shakespeare is so omnipresent in our educational system isn’t necessarily the greatness of his work. It’s the fact that when it comes to Shakespeare, we know almost nothing about him, but his work. Did he drink or use drugs? Was he happy or depressed? Who knows? Teaching Shakespeare is easy for that very reason. There are no difficult lifestyle issues to broach there. Unfortunately, kids don’t grasp onto art in a void. When you hear a great song or read a great book, you want to know about the life of the man or woman who created it.
The very thing that educators too often miss is that it doesn’t matter if those lives are flawed or filled with debauchery. The world is a complicated place, and the best way to educate our youth is to acknowledge it and to be honest about it.
In the hands of a qualified educator, the lives of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Charlie Parker, William Burroughs, and anyone else who mixed chemicals with their art can be both an inspiration to creativity and a lesson of the downside of substance abuse.
The one sure way to irresponsibly attract teens to a subversive life of drinking and drug abuse is by ignoring it, demonizing it, and sweeping the lives of those who fell in its wake under the carpet. Teach kids about Jimi Hendrix because of his drug use! Like the smart parents used to say about sex, “It’s better that they learn it here from me than out on the street.”