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.

ADHD or narcissism?

Many children diagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may simply be slow to grow out of “normal childhood narcissism, writes psychologist Enrico Gnaulati in The Atlantic.

In the 1970s, a mere one percent of kids were considered ADHD. By the 1980s, three to five percent was the presumed rate, with steady increases into the 1990s. One eye-opening study showed that ADHD medications were being administered to as many as 17 percent of males in two school districts in southeastern Virginia in 1995.

ADHD symptoms — “problems listening, forgetfulness, distractibility, prematurely ending effortful tasks, excessive talking, fidgetiness, difficulties waiting one’s turn, and being action-oriented” — aren’t all that different from normal childhood challenges, he writes. In the past, a distractible, fidgety child would have been considered slower to mature and learn social skills. Now that child is quickly diagnosed with ADHD.

The core symptoms of ADHD resemble childhood narcissism, which is characterized by “overconfident self-appraisals, attention-craving, a sense of personal entitlement” and weak empathy for others, writes Gnaulati.

“Jonah” falls apart when he can’t master a task immediately. It could be a symptom of ADHD, writes Gnaulati. Perhaps he can’t retain the information needed. But it could be the “magical thinking” common for young children.

He believes mastering tasks should somehow be automatic—not the outcome of commitment, perseverance, and effort. Jonah’s self-esteem may also be so tenuous that it fluctuates greatly. For instance, when Jonah anticipates success, he productively cruises through work, eager to receive the recognition that he expects from parents and teachers. He is on a high. He definitely feels good about himself. But in the face of challenging work, he completely shuts down, expects failure, outside criticism, and wants to just give up.

“Parents who think their kid has ADHD often describe scenarios at home where the kid reacts to minor setbacks with bloodcurdling screams or to modest successes with over-the-top exuberance,” writes Gnaulati. For kids who really have ADHD, completing homework can be torture. But, for others, “dramatic displays of emotion are attempts to get out of tasks that warrant commitment, application, and effort.”

If parents give in, “these kids often do not acquire the emotional self-control necessary to buckle down and do academic work independently.”

I think the technical term is “spoiled brat.”

Gnaulati is the author of  Back to Normal, which is subtitled “why ordinary childhood behavior is mistaken for ADHD, bipolar disorder, and autism spectrum disorders.”

Brainy, introverted boys are over-diagnosed with autism, he writes in Salon. ”If we don’t have a firm grasp of gender differences in how young children communicate and socialize, we can mistake traditional masculine behavior for high-functioning autism.”

Some aren’t ready for college at 18

Not every 18-year-old is ready for a four-year college, says Jeffrey Selingo, author of College (Un)Bound.  Many “end up in college because we have few maturing alternatives after high school, whether it’s national service, apprenticeships or structured ‘gap year’ experiences.” Well, we’ve got military service, work and community college.

‘I teach to empower kids’

I teach to “empower kids to live satisfying and productive lives,”, writes Esther Wojcicki, a long-time English and journalism teacher at Palo Alto High School, on Learning Matters. “I am helping grow adults.”

(Teenagers) tend to be energetic, creative and humorous, and their drive for independence empowers them to think outside the box. I love to see what far-out ideas they dream up. Some of them have turned out to be real winners. Kids are amazing — if you encourage them.

I try to create a classroom atmosphere in which students are not afraid of making mistakes. In fact, they are encouraged to take intellectual risks and occasionally fail, because that is the way they learn best.

Paly journalism students develop their own story ideas, she writes. Student editors assign the stories and supervise the reporters.  She lets them “do the work themselves.”

I know this is true because Woj was my daughter’s journalism teacher. Working on the newspaper as a writer, news editor and editor was one of the most important experiences of Allison’s life. Woj lets students lead, even when she’s the one who’s going to catch the flak. She really does grow adults.

Before college, take ‘grownup training’

Postpone college for two years of “grownup training,” advises Brett Nelson on Forbes.

Specifically: six months spent working in a factory, six in a restaurant, six on a farm and six in the military or performing another public service such as building houses, teaching algebra or changing bedpans.

. . . I’d reckon that grownup training would put undergrads deeply in touch with 1) why they wanted to go college in the first place, 2) what a special opportunity college really  is, and 3) more than a vague notion of what — and better yet — who they wanted to be when they grew up.

Nelson isn’t proposing a government program. He wants selective colleges to require grownup training before they’ll consider an application.

However, it’s not practical:  Few employers want 18-year-old short-timers.

Today’s elites have little experience with the lives of ordinary Americans, argues Charles Murray in his new book, Coming Apart. I scored 24 out of 99 points on his 25-question quiz on mainstream culture.

We don’t want well-informed elites making decisions for the rest of us, writes Ilya Somin, who scored 37, on Volokh Conspiracy. Our goals should be “an elite whose power over those masses is more limited and decentralized.”

Redshirting doesn’t help kids

Delay Kindergarten at Your Child’s Peril, warn neuroscientists Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt, authors of Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows From Conception to College, in the New York Times.

Nine percent of children old enough to start kindergarten are “redshirted” each year by parents who want to give them an edge, they write. But the advantages usually fade by the end of elementary school.  “In high school, redshirted children are less motivated and perform less well.”

 In a large-scale study at 26 Canadian elementary schools, first graders who were young for their year made considerably more progress in reading and math than kindergartners who were old for their year (but just two months younger). In another large study, the youngest fifth-graders scored a little lower than their classmates, but five points higher in verbal I.Q., on average, than fourth-graders of the same age. In other words, school makes children smarter.

High achievers benefit from skipping a grade, they add. Acceleration has twice the effect on achievement as programs for the gifted.

Children do best when they’re challenged, but not overwhelmed.

Learning is maximized not by getting all the answers right, but by making errors and correcting them quickly. In this respect, children benefit from being close to the limits of their ability. Too low an error rate becomes boring, while too high an error rate is unrewarding. A delay in school entry may therefore still be justified if children are very far behind their peers, leaving a gap too broad for school to allow effective learning.

Young children’s brains are developing rapidly. For most, the best possible contest is the classroom, Wang and Aamodt believe. That’s especially true for disadvantaged children. The trend to move back the cutoff date for starting kindergarten is hurting children from low-income families, they write.

My husband skipped a grade in elementary school. My sister skipped in middle school.  Neither faced much of an error rate in the higher grade. My daughter’s half-sister skipped high school, starting college at 14. It was not an academic challenge.  Now 18, she’s started graduate school in classics.

 

Quirky kids shut out of 'gifted' classes

Gifted classes exclude very smart children who are good at math and science but weak on social skills, wrote Katharine Beals of Out in Left Field. Kids who are good in reading, writing and group work are preferred. Girls are much more likely to be placed in gifted classes, reports the New York Times.

. . . research has shown many gifted children (male and female) to be developmentally skewed or “asynchronous” (see, e.g., here and here), and, in particular, often socially, emotionally, and/or organizationally immature.

As I discuss in my book, the reasons for considering global maturity may have more to do with current fashions in education than with what academically challenging programming intrinsically requires. Today’s classrooms, and gifted classrooms in particular, increasingly emphasize collaborative work, reflections about personal feelings, and organizationally demanding projects. At the same time math–an area of relative strength for boys–has become less and less mathematically challenging (and increasingly infused with language arts).

In a follow-up, a reader adds the story of twin boys tested for the gifted program in elementary schools. Only one boy was accepted. The mother was surprised to see that the rejected boy had higher scores than his brother. He was “more socially shy and awkward.”

Another mother writes of her school:

Good behavior was “rewarded” by being admitted into gifted classes. When I subbed in emotional support and autistic support classes, I would see lowered expectations and some very brilliant insights. When I taught in gifted classes, I would see well-behaved kids who were great at regurgitating concrete facts.

It takes highly quirky, intelligent teachers to work with highly quirky, intelligent students, Beals writes. They may not be the sorts to make it through “dissent-crushing education schools, much less avoid getting fired for insubordination by today’s line-toeing principals.”

British school bans Valentine's cards

Primary students aren’t prepared for the “emotional trauma” of Valentine’s Day cards, a British headmaster has decided. Children may not exchange cards at Ashcombe Primary School in Weston-super-Mare, reports BBC News.

Peter Turner told parents of the 430 pupils that cards would be confiscated.

. . . Mr Turner said in the newsletter that children get upset when they are “dumped” which interrupts their learning.

He said children should wait until they are mature enough emotionally and socially to understand the commitment in having a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Parents say the ban is “ridiculous.”

Via Jonathan Turley.

Famous Zeke, a teaching intern, shares a hand-made Valentine’s Day card from a student.

In my day, we were required to give a card to every classmate. Girls got “friend” cards for other girls and joke cards for boys. It was about candy, not love. I don’t think that’s changed.