Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Newt Gingrich: Let's End Adolescence

There is a great editorial from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on businessweek in which Newt joins me (yeah, cause I included youth rights as a major item in my own campaign but I am by no means the first to try to raise awareness to the issue) and Ralph Nader (See earlier blog entry) in advocating for youth rights and an end to the age discrimination that unfairly targets youths.

A copy/paste of the story follows.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says young people need to shift
more quickly from childhood to adulthood

It's time to declare the end of adolescence. As a social institution,
it's been a failure. The proof is all around us: 19% of eighth
graders, 36% of tenth graders, and 47% of twelfth graders say they
have used illegal drugs, according to a study by the National
Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan. One of every
four girls has a sexually transmitted disease, suggests a recent study
for the Centers for Disease Control. A methamphetamine epidemic among
the young is destroying lives, families, and communities. And American
students are learning at a frighteningly slower rate than Chinese and
Indian students.

The solution is dramatic and unavoidable: We have to end adolescence
as a social experiment. We tried it. It failed. It's time to move on.
Returning to an earlier, more successful model of children rapidly
assuming the roles and responsibilities of adults would yield enormous
benefit to society.

Prior to the 19th century, it's fair to say that adolescence did not
exist. Instead, there was virtually universal acceptance that puberty
marked the transition from childhood to young adulthood. Whether with
the Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah ceremony of the Jewish faith or
confirmation in the Catholic Church or any hundreds of rites of
passage in societies around the planet, it was understood you were
either a child or a young adult.

In the U.S., this principle of direct transition from the world of
childhood play to the world of adult work was clearly established at
the time of the Revolutionary War. Benjamin Franklin was an example of
this kind of young adulthood. At age 13, Franklin finished school in
Boston, was apprenticed to his brother, a printer and publisher, and
moved immediately into adulthood.

John Quincy Adams attended Leiden University in Holland at 13 and at
14 was employed as secretary and interpreter by the American
Ambassador to Russia. At 16 he was secretary to the U.S. delegation
during the negotiations with Britain that ended the Revolution.

Daniel Boone got his first rifle at 12, was an expert hunter at 13,
and at 15 made a yearlong trek through the wilderness to begin his
career as America's most famous explorer. The list goes on and on.

It is true that life expectancy was shorter in those days and the need
to get on with being an adult could be argued. Nevertheless, early
adulthood, early responsibility, and early achievement were the norm
before the institution of adolescence emerged as a system for delaying
adulthood and trapping young people into wasting years of their lives.
To regain those benefits, we must develop accelerated learning systems
that peg the rate of academic progress to the student's pace and
ability to absorb the material, making education more efficient.

Adolescence was invented in the 19th century to enable middle-class
families to keep their children out of sweatshops. But it has
degenerated into a process of enforced boredom and age segregation
that has produced one of the most destructive social arrangements in
human history: consigning 13-year-old males to learning from
15-year-old males.

The costs of this social experiment have been horrendous. For the poor
who most need to make money, learn seriously, and accumulate
resources, adolescence has helped crush their future. By trapping poor
people in bad schools, with no work opportunities and no culture of
responsibility, we have left them in poverty, in gangs, in drugs, and
in irresponsible sexual activity. As a result, we have ruined several
generations of poor people who might have made it if we had provided a
different model of being young.

And for too many middle-class and wealthier young Americans,
adolescence has been an excuse to delay work, family, and
achievement?and thus contribute less to their own well-being and that
of their communities.

It's time to change this?to shift to serious work, learning, and
responsibility at age 13 instead of age 30. In other words, replace
adolescence with young adulthood. But hastening that transition
requires integrating learning into life and work. Fortunately,
innovations in technology and in financial incentives to learn offer

The Information Age makes it possible for young people to learn much
faster than our current failed bureaucracies and obsolete curriculums
permit. New systems such as Curriki, founded by Sun Microsystems
(JAVA) and now an independent nonprofit, allow a community of teachers
and learners to collaborate via the Internet to create quality
educational materials for free?giving every American access to
learning 24 hours a day.

And experiments such as the one my daughter, Jackie Cushman, is
running in Atlanta?where poor children are paid the equivalent of
working in a fast-food restaurant to study and do their homework?are
examples of a more dynamic future.

In math and science learning, which are among the most important
indicators of future prosperity and strength, America lags far behind
such emerging powers as China and India. Studying to compete with
Asian counterparts in the world market is going to keep U.S. teens
busier than anyone ever imagined. This will require year-round
learning, with mentors available online, rather than our traditional
bureaucratic model of education. But we must go further, toward a
dynamic, real-world blueprint for learning.

Indeed, going to school should be a money-making profession if you are
good at it and work hard. That would revolutionize our poorest
neighborhoods and boost our competitiveness.

The fact is, most young people want to be challenged and given real
responsibility. They want to be treated like young men and women, not
old children. So consider this simple proposal: High school students
who can graduate a year early get the 12th year's cost of schooling as
an automatic scholarship to any college or technical school they want
to attend. If they graduate two years early, they get two years of
scholarships. At no added cost to taxpayers, we would give students an
incentive to study as hard as they can and maximize the speed at which
they learn.

Once we decide to engage young people in real life, doing real work,
earning real money, and thereby acquiring real responsibility, we can
transform being young in America. And our nation will become more
competitive in the process.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is founder of the Center for Health


Son of Liberty said...

Very provacative it deserves consideration and debate.

James Hogan said...

So debate.... I have no children, HOWEVER, it never ceases to amaze me that EVERY parent of a toddler wants to demonstrate to me that their child is indeed the smartest child ever. Perhaps that is so and I'll give my "I'm not a parent so it's just a WAG $0.02"... *SOME* parents take a very proactive role in their infant/toddler's life, spending much "quality time" with their own child teaching their child the alphabet, how to count, how to write their name, how to stack lego blocks even. My mother baby-sits for a toddler who has very active parents and my mother is also very active in teaching the child. Indeed, that child is "smarter" than *some* other 3 year olds. Fast forward a year and I can be reasonably sure that this child will be in a public school where she will be held back from learning by the "not as smart" kids, or the kids whose parents did not INVEST the time in their own offspring. Like most other parents, the parents of this particular toddler will smile that their child receives an "A" in each class and brag that they have the smartest student in class. However, the parents, like the public school system, will fail to recognize that, especially in the early grades, this child is not using her full learning ability or mental capacity. Throw in a few "all work no play" or "you can't push kids too far" or "she'll miss out on..." and the usual excuses all point to how a child ends up just becoming another borg in society. Clearly there are some families/students who want to excel and some families/students who just want to be part of the collective. Surely the examples that Newt gives were the exception even back in the 1700-1800s, but they had the chance to be the exception. In the name of "equality" we have eliminated the ability for today's youth to be exceptions. Some students WANT to understand politics and the news and they want to vote and earn money, others just want to join the basketball team and barely get by hoping for that NBA scholarship.

On a similar topic, I've noted that students are often "not allowed to use a calculator" to do math - and I question... why? When a new carpenter starts at the job site, is he given a hammer and a sack full of nails, or is he given the modern nail-gun tool which saves him time and makes him more efficient? Does the new auto mechanic have to understand how a carburetor works in order to work on a car with Electronic Fuel Injection? Does a new computer scientist have to write his first program on punch cards in order to become a C++ developer? Do we all have to learn how to read a map and use a compass before we purchase our first GPS device? Yet we have teachers who refuse to allow modern tools like computers and calculators to be used and exploited to advance knowledge because "they have to learn the way I did 100 years ago!" or "what happens when there is no computer!". I could be mistaken, but I don't think the computer is going anywhere and I'm reasonably sure that like you with a map and a compass, you could figure it out the old fashioned way if you really had to, but why bother if you're cell phone can figure it out for you, just like it can figure out the math for you?

I certainly don't have the answers, I *DO* think everyone should be able to do basic math on their own, but then at the same time, as noted, how often do any of us really break out the pencil and paper instead of Start->Run->Calc?

I'm not a teacher, or a parent and I will hopefully never be either of the above - but I do believe that we as a society need to be willing to admit that the next generation of humans will indeed be smarter than we are or ever will be. We need to be willing to allow the youth to explore the world we've built at a young age and not be held back from reality that our decisions have created. We shouldn't hide the scary movie, or the dirty movie, from children and then act surprised when they are found using technology, like the cell phone or the internet, to share nude or horrific (or both!) pictures with each other. We can't tell youths that they can't vote, and then act surprised that when they turn the magical age of 18, they don't vote. We can't keep youths from learning how to responsibly drink alcohol with their parents (who are likely drinking alcohol) and then act surprised when some youth dies drunk driving trying to race home from a friend's house at 11:59pm to make that magically midnight curfew that somehow separates good drivers from bad drivers.

Some of the baby turtles will make it to the ocean, others won't.

If I'm to believe that "all [wo]men are created equal" then I'm not sure how it is that in the same breath that use to teach youths that we're all created equal, we then say that their rights are temporally taken away until they "earn" the "equality" they were granted when they were created.

"All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights;".