Brandon Stanton, the 31-year-old photographer behind the viral Humans of New York photo series, does not shy away from sensitive topics.
On Monday, a photograph posted to the blog’s Instagram account was no different, touching on recreational marijuana use amongst high schoolers.
“I hate pot. I hate it even more than hard drugs,” reads the caption beneath a photo of a male teacher sitting on a bench, dressed in a red shirt, plaid shorts, and tennis shoes. The quote is an excerpt from a brief interview Stanton conducted with the man.
The caption continues: “I’ve taught high school for 25 years and I hate what marijuana does to my students.”
The photo, which has received hundreds of thousands of ‘likes,’ ignited a debate amongst Humans of New York’s followers.
“It goes beyond missing homework assignments. My students become less curious when they start smoking pot,” the man says. “I’ve seen it time and time again. People say pot makes you more creative, but from what I’ve seen, it narrows my students’ minds until they only reference the world in relation to the drug.”
A study published in July 2015 by the University of Michigan titled “Monitoring The Future: National Survey Results On Drug Use, 1975–2014,” found that college students in the United States smoke marijuana in higher numbers than at any time in the past 35 years.
“I hate when people say that it’s just experimenting. Because from what I’ve seen, [drug use is] when my students stop experimenting,” the Humans of New York post caption reads.
According to Pew Research Center, 44 percent of Americans believe marijuana use should be illegal, while 53 percent of Americans believe it should be legal.
A second Humans of New York image of the same man was also posted on Monday.
“When you’re a teacher, you get to look down on your students’ lives from 5,000 feet,” the caption reads. “You’re allowed a certain detachment because your primary job is to encourage and inspire. You can easily tolerate your students making mistakes, or lacking direction, because you realize that kids learn through the tensions of uncertainty.”
Within hours of the photo being posted to the Human’s of New York Facebook page, comments poured in.
One network engineer named Ragnar Belial Us remarked that the post was “Probably the best anti-pot reasoning I ever read.”
Ida Aldaco-Hamilton added to the over 35,000 comments on the Facebook post by writing, “While I am not against marijuana, I AM against use of it by people so young.”
“Yes–YES YES YES,” wrote a woman named Caitlin Velasco. “As a teacher I couldn’t agree more. I hate seeing creative minds ruined before they even have a chance.”
Even drug users weighed in.
“I smoke weed and I see what he is talking about,” wrote Jeshua Acevedo of Chicago, Illinois. “I see this a lot amongst my peers and within myself.”
This is not the first Humans of New York photo to stir an emotional response from followers–and will likely not be the last.