Let adolescents grow up

Let’s give adolescents a chance to grow up, writes Ted Kolderie of the Center for Policy Studies in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  Adolescence “infantilizes” young people, he writes, citing psychologist Robert Epstein, author of Teen 2.0, on adolescent stupidity.

Deny them serious responsibilities, keep them out of real work, give them virtually no contact with adults, tell them they have no function except to be schooled (and marketed to): Why wouldn’t they behave as they do?

(Check out School punishes sober driver.)

High schools are filled with disengaged students, writes Kolderie. “Though not everyone’s aptitudes are verbal/conceptual/abstract, today only academic success is rewarded.” There are few vocational schools or opportunities to learn from experience.

Young people can do amazing things when they’re challenged, he writes. “In his history of the Battle of Britain, Michael Korda writes that by late summer 1940, more and more of those flying the British Spitfires and Hurricanes were, in our terms, high school seniors.”

How could we tap the talents of the young?

We’d begin by changing school to let young people advance as fast and as far as their efforts and abilities will take them, in every field.

In traditional school, students are sorted by age and “instructed” as a group. Most students move a grade a year, however much (or little) they’ve learned.

If learning were personalized, those who needed more time would get more time and would learn more. Those who could go faster would go faster and would learn more.

. . . Finland, much praised for its students’ success, ends compulsory education at 16. Students move to “upper secondary,” almost half of these into vocational school that leads on to postsecondary “polytechnics.”

A competency-based system would let young people “test out” of conventional schooling, Kolderie suggests. Some might start college early. (“Dual enrollment” in college classes is a growing trend for high school students.) Others might start learning a job, like young Finns.

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  1. I’ve enjoyed this blog for many years, and have linked to it several times. Today’s topic is very timely and important, thanks for highlighting it.

    My only suggestion is that we should expand our concept of education beyond mere teaching of declarative / semantic facts and concepts. Education should also be about praxis and the learning of hands on skills. This should be true from the beginning onward.

    It isn’t reasonable to confine kids for 14 years, filling their heads with facts and often unsupported theories, then think we can turn them loose in the job market with good results. They need to be good for something besides regurgitating questionable “facts.” The system is failing them, and will continue to fail them, no matter the good intentions.

  2. This is a huge problem for modern cultures. Throughout nearly all the 100,000 year time of human existence puberty has begun at about 12 years of age and been largely over in less than 2 years. The biological process of sexual maturation has evolved to fit this schedule. Adolescence in modern cultures is highly unnatural. We need to do everything possible to shorten the time required for education and growing up. Sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture is a highly unnatural behavior that the vast majority of people are not well suited for. The last thing we need to be doing is pushing more people into college or extended education who are not suitable for that.

  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    Yes, yes, yes. Set a minimum standard of basic literacy and numeracy, let them test out at any time, then offer additional education, vocational or other types of training, or internships. Stop treating them like agency-less idiots. And, stop institutionalizing them to benefit their guards (err, I mean the ed-school academic industrial complex).

    • That’s the major problem….institutionalizing and warehousing. Never enough seats in college prep for those academically qualified, never enough seats in vo-tech. People around here are starting to wise up and grad their boys a year early, then pay for a 2 year training program.

    • I like a policy I call Parent Performance Contracting. With any proposal that cuts into the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel’s revenue stream, the problem is how to get it through the cartel’s kept politicians in your State legislature.

  4. Sadly, wealth encourages the “Lost Boys” syndrome and humanity in general has never achieved anywhere near the current level of wealth with every sign of wealth continuing to increase.

    It’ll take a deep understanding of human nature to convince our “Lost Boys” to give up the pretense that they’re heroes for the planet, valiant and courageous fighters against racism, generous, compassionate, civil, civilized and knowledgeable.

    • Anonymous says:

      Um, what?

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Allen might mean the Boys are good at talking a progressive game–they learned it at school–but no earthly use otherwise. Or maybe not.

        WRT the Battle of Britain and the seventeen-year-old replacements for The Few.
        Yeah. Puking in fear behind the hangar, praying that if you’re hit you are killed, rather than burning alive in your cockpit with your screams transmitted to all on the open mic, which you have heard many times already.
        Then appearing at the flight line, emitting heedless good cheer in Edwardian accents.
        The guys can do it. Shame to try to teach it out of them. Never know when we’ll need them.

      • Um, ask a question or make a statement if you expect a reply other then this one.

    • GEORGE LARSON says:


      Aren’t our institutions telling our children “they’re heroes for the planet, valiant and courageous fighters against racism, generous, compassionate, civil, civilized and knowledgeable.”? Maybe we should tell them the truth, they are not.

      • Indeed and there’s an entire side of the political spectrum that believes that about themselves. It’s just natural to use the public education system to inculcate the next generation with your closely held beliefs.

        As for telling someone who’s enthralled with their multitude of superior qualities that they’re just fooling themselves, good luck with that. It takes intersecting with some of life’s hard edges to penetrate the conceits of youth and the richer you are the less likely you’ll be to bear the marks of those hard corners and the subsequent, and unpleasant, realization that the world doesn’t revolve around you.

  5. GEORGE LARSON says:

    Here is a standard for aspiring adults. I do not meet it, but it might be a good one to teach to our children

    Robert Heinlein:
    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    • I wonder if Heinlein met the standard he seemed to think admirable?

      I doubt it. Mostly due to the gross, and idiotic, generalization in the last sentence. Specialization may be for some insects but not all and it is the basis of all economic, and scientific, progress.

  6. Let’s start responsibility and competence even earlier. I recently visited an affluent suburb where kids were walked to ES, 3-4 blocks away, by adults. Admittedly, there are no sidewalks, but still… why not have the 5th-graders in a patrol program on each corner, as used to be the norm.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      For what it is worth, there do seem to be a lot of programs around that let/encourage kids to do “real” stuff. 4H comes to mind as a start.


      And closer to my home, we have the “Palo Alto Midpeninsula Community Media Center.” These folks provide local TV coverage of local events. Like high school sports (football, volleyball, …). And they run a lot of this with kids manning key positions (running the cameras, providing commentary, running the control panel, …).

      Quoting from a recent post by these folks:

      We start out the school year with adults working with youth to produce local games, and by the time the school year ends, the youth are running the program and having a blast. We did this last year and we’re doing it again. Friday night’s game kicked off our sports season working with the youth plus we made a technical leap for the MC — taking a sporting event live from a remote location!


      And then finally, and most importantly, the whole point of the MC Sports program in the first place – THE YOUTH! — who except for directing basically did all the production work!

      Five of the youth [the youngest of whom is 12 …] who were trained in the truck during the MC Sports summer camp this summer crewed for the game. They rotated graphics, playback machine, audio, and the three cameras…


      Once all the technical glitches were ironed out and the crew were in position, MC Sports producer Chuck Alley and I could have gone out for ice cream, but we stayed and marveled at the way this production came together. And we marveled at the staying power of the youth. Even the youngest members stayed to the bitter end.

      When handed responsibility the youth step up. I witness this over and over again as a staff member here at the MC. I was really proud of those kids.

      But this sort of writeup isn’t going to get as much attention as an op-ed piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        Too bad they didn’t get these kids trained-up in a bit of coding. Then, perhaps, Obamacare might actually work. Nawwww, just kidding – it’ll never work.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      That brings back memories. I was a safety patrol boy in sixth grade. The school expected me to look after the younger kids and expected the younger kids to listen to me.
      Imagine proposing that today.