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Creating Young Adults


Growing up shouldn't be defined by rules and restrictions, writes Robert Epstein in this Education Week Commentary. Some kids are remarkably mature, and should be given more responsibility and privileges to encourage them to grow. Extensive rules only serve to artificially extend childhood and stunt this process, Epstein cautions.

Recognizing that young people are capable, competent, and responsible will allow us to cultivate their talents. As part of this process, education should be individualized and self-paced, ushering young people into adulthood, not isolating them from it, writes Epstein.

What do you think? Should (and could) schools do more to help teenagers mature?


You have some good ideas and have hit upon a clear theme.

May I suggest that you look into Montessori's program ideas for adolescents. You can check this out at montessori-namta.org where they have info on it. It is a substancially different program from traditional models, and allows adolescents to actually develop as you say: to be mature, and capable contributors to the world that they are living in.

I've taught in a parallel program alongside a Montessori model and it is an excellent example of teaching responsibility and internalized learning. Students don't have to be rewarded. Learning is the exciting reward.

Gifted and Talented students when they are not in an AP class (which, incidentally, is not designed for the gifted student)are usually ignored and left to their own devises in a regular classroom, are generally more mature than their age peers. Research shows that they should be on a track that is above AP where they can follow their passions and need for subject synthesis. Independent studies are a real joy for them.

I too had the same thoughts as Mark; that you are on a Montessori path. After you peruse the research on the NAMTA website, you may find Dr. Montessori's book "To Educate the Human Potential" to be an interesting read (http://www.amazon.com/Educate-Human-Potential-Clio-Montessori/dp/1851090940). Additionally, Time Magazine published an article "What Makes Teens Tick" in 2004 that provides a great deal of research and insight into adolescent brain development. The article has been the basis for presentations I've given to parents and teachers of teens that desperately want to know what teens are going through and how they can help provide a better learning environment and support structure.

Thank you for such an interesting and insightful article. Regards, Tammy 843-760-4351

First of all, I believe it is essential that we model the values that made our country and those who have achieved in previous generations to these young people.

I also see young people growing up without a strong sense of ownership and accountability for their concerns and the interaction that makes any community successful.

They often have little to no financial, problem-solving and social skills abilities to empower them to succeed and be balanced in their lives as adults - as do many older adults in my generation. I had no training or models for financial and good problem-solving myself and had to learn in midst of being a divorced mom with special needs children - I turned to men in my family and church to no avail. I missed investment opportunities and better decisions as a result.

Lastly, we live in an entitlement society - unlike other countries, we are not aware of how what we do affects others and how they benefit us when we work as a team - 'golden rule' - such that we are like a crowd at Macy's sale day opening. This is a pervasive immaturity problem, in my opinion. Even the religious entities have moved toward expectation of what they will 'receive rather than give to' their congregations

If you are talking about education as individualized and self paced or self directed, it's worth individually considering. However, I have seen way too many children coming out of poverty who were extremely mature and who had had very little childhood. While their conditions forced the maturity upon them, they lack the experience and breath of knowledge of consequences to be left to their own devices. Their perception of the world and it's possibilities is very narrow, and the choices they make are likewise very limited.
"Mature" decisions come from one's experience and perception of the "rules" of the world around us. Education should serve to expand both that experience and perception. For example, in the world of poverty, the 'rule' about having children at a young age, married or not, is that it's just great and adds to the extended family. In more affluent circles, there is an awareness of a different set of consequences for a pregnant teenager.
In the poverty world, taking on the task of raising a child is a 'mature' decision and one that has been modeled by many others around you; in the affluent world, it's an immature choice with dire consequences.
For another instance where childhood maturity is in conflict with sound decision making is reacting to pornography. "Mature" and immature children are attracted to porn, yet both lack the experience and judgment to see beyond the stimulation. Rules about what to watch are critical to guiding a child's growth into real mature decision making.
I wonder if 'maturity' in children is being defined as compliance with existing school rules and expectations, and being confused with the maturity of complex decision making based on experience and complex mental manipulations. Education, with the appropriate set of rules, can be where they safely gain experience and get guidance in their decision making. There is a difference between a mature adult and a mature child. Children are still children, and rules are necessary for their growth.

There is a recurring theme in social studies that suggests delayed maturity. Secondary school has become a preparation for college, which, in turn has become an extension of high school. High school, while concentrating on college preparation, should also allow students opportunities to try out various career paths. Many students would benefit from moving into some sort of workplace, carrer path after graduation. College is simply not for everyone. Vocational education seems to have lost some of its' appeal, becoming a kind of lower class way to go. Oddly, in many cases, the students in vo-tech schools seem to get more training in the simple, but mundane skills of life, budgeting, check writing, filling out job applications and interview skills. The seemingly simple skills don't find their way into the college prep curricullum.
They only remain children for so long and it would not hurt to ease them through the transition.

Of course, Epstein is right about the plight of students given the less than stimulating setting they find themselves in (example: a recent study in the journal "Science" on elementary classrooms reported that 91.2 percent of fifth-graders' class time was spent in their seats listening to the teacher or working alone, and only seven percent working in small groups, where social skills are developed and critical thinking can occur; remember critical thinking? Oh yes, I remember --it's too hard to "measure"). The shame is that we are facing the age-old question again after centuries of knowing what the right path is to "maturity." From Socrates and Rousseau to Vygotsky and Dewey to Bruner and Csikszentmihalyi and even Dr. Seuss, to name only a few of the sages, the message has always been sounded loud and clear: emphasize learning, learning how to learn, and insisting that students take responsibility for their own learning. This is the "maturity" that is demanded and it must come at the earliest possible time in the student's educational career. The fact that it doesn't happen with great regularity is attributed to the factors identified by Epstein and one of the indicators is the 30 percent national high school dropout rate. I'm surprised the rate isn't higher. It well may become so if we continue along the same dreary path.

Several years ago while studying at the University of Washington's "Making Connections, Making Choices" Summer Institute I became aware of the fact that neuroscientists are just NOW becoming aware of what the car insurance companies have known for many years! The human brain does not complete maturing until age 25 when the mylenation of the neuronal sheaths finishes. Thus there have been reduced car insurance rates after age 25 when the human brain is mature enough to NOT be distracted while driving and cause an accident!

Maybe this matches the statement that "education is the greatest delayer of maturity that humans have ever invented."

Then again, maybe it doesn't, but the actual fit between formal education, informal education and life-long learning is going to be a question for several hundred more years.

We do have the opportunity to rethink, redesign, and recreate our high schools, colleges and the life-long learning/training for our maturing and mature adults. Just read the recent AARP newspaper about retraining retired and semi-retired workers for the jobs that are or will be available when the smaller number of young workers enter the workforce within the next ten years. We ARE even redefining retirement as well as high school and college.

WHAT a hoot!

"education is the greatest delayer of maturity that humans have ever invented."

I would replace "education" with "school", but
here's a good description of how:

I beleive Montessori is an antidote, but I can't
send my kids there. :-(

I have long felt that high school, especially the last years need major overhauling (abolishing?- maybe...), changes, etc to bring them into place with the potential of young people in the modern world. With internet technology certainly it is easier than ever before to envision a system whereby learning is done in the real world via internships, on-line discussions, classes, etc. Having said that, I also feel that the culture needs to recognize that education really does need to be a lifelong undertaking and that much of what a University offers young people often better fits the older learner who now has neither the time nor the resources to pursue it. If all work places allowed for financially supported continuing education and gave people the time to undertake it - many people would sign-on. For now, it is left to students actively working towards degrees - and retired folks.

Finally, certainly the hope is that aging brings more than a more than a secure lifestyle for the education, but also some increase in wisdom based on an active intellect, experience and the moral understanding that in part can only emerge in a person from having lived through many challenges (social, emotional and personal) - and thus, having viewed life in a wider context than any young adult could manage. It is an old quip that if wars were only fought in the front lines by those over the age of 40 or 50, there would be far more conscientious objectors. So, yes, youth can offer much and do much more than currently allowed by what is no doubt a very out of date school system. None-the-less, mentor ships with older people would seem to have a firm place forever in futures.

Former New York State Teacher of the Year JOHN TAYLOR GATTO writes eloquently on this subject. I recommend "Dumbing Us Down" and "A Different Kind of Teacher."

Recently I was a participant in a workshop showing how different generations have come to raise their children based on expectations that were placed on them as youngsters. It was an incredible comparison of characteristics and qualities of individuals from different years and how it impacts the adolescents of today. The ultimate message given was: we don't provide enough educational opportunitites to let students try, possibly fail, and learn from the experience. Trial and error comes from overprotection by a different generation which does not let adolescents grow from these opportunities. Education should incorporate more opportunities for students to think through problems, rules and regulations and provide decision making opportunities that leads them into feeling confident as they mature and go into the real world. I have encountered too many students who are fearful of growing because they just don't know what to do since it has always been done for them. Where do we begin to change?

Thank goodness my son was able to skip a couple of years and graduate at the age of Epstein's son. Even with grade skipping, school moved too slowly and was too limiting. He was plenty mature enough to move out of state and begin a career that included international travel, living on his own and managing his own life. We talk about those choices from time to time and he says he would have been a drop-out had he not been able to "get out and get on with life." It was surprising to me to see him blossom after he left HS since I thought grade skipping had gotten him to a level of challenge. I was wrong. Once he was given the opportunity to lead and plan his own life, he became a more enthusiastic learner. School juast stifled his enthusiasm and held him back - even with the best of intentions. I agree we infantilize these kids in the mistaken belief that we are helping them. It's those good intentions that are a big part of the problem.

High school is a "lock step" system for all students regardless of ability or current interest. I believe we should eliminate grade levels. The number of credits required to graduate are fixed. Why divide the credits and classes into four seperate high school grade levels? What difference does it make if one student completes the required credits and graduates in three years and another takes five years? What difference does it make if a third student chooses to take a semester off and work? Why not just indicate that high school is for persons under the age of 21 and let students and their parents determine the schedule?

Am a recently retired Massachusetts public school teacher (34 years) who employed the
"traditional" whole group method of instruction my first year in the classroom. I harkened back to my time as a student, bored in many classes because the pace was too slow and overwhelmed in a few where the teacher got ahead of me. Upon reflection I figured there had to be a better method. There was; individualized/customized instruction. Kids progressed through the curriculum at their own pace as they were able to
demonstrate mastery. It was a lot of work establishing the system but once in place it worked great. Politically it was an uphill battle
with most of my colleagues. Most were reluctant to have my students after they'd been with me for a year because I'd taught many of them material two to three years above grade level. Administrators didn't know what to think because they couldn't criticize what I was doing but
often had to listen to complaints from receiving teachers. Parents loved it. Kids were always at their instructional level so most of them
never had complaints either. It was tough being the maverick for all that time but quite satisfying to me because I knew what I was doing was best for my students. It was truly a
child-centered classroom. I was also disappointed the educational software (programmed instruction) was essentially unavailable. It could have really enhanced this type of classroom.

Great article! The title caught my eye but the wisdom in the piece held my attention. Learning is supposed to be fun. Many public schools today are more concerned with order and structure than promoting learning. I found the part about the artificial division that has been created between teenagers and adults incredibly perceptive. However, what do we create to replace the high school?


Todd R. DeKay
Adult Basic Education
Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell
Office: 505-624-7442
Fax: 505-624-7377
[email protected]

"Growing up shouldn't be defined by rules and restrictions... Some kids are remarkably mature, and should [retain] more responsibility and privileges to encourage them to grow. Extensive rules only serve to artificially extend childhood and stunt this process... Recognizing that young people are capable, competent, and responsible will allow us to cultivate their talents. As part of this process, education should be individualized and self-paced, ushering young people into adulthood, not isolating them from it."

With the exception of replacing "be given" with "retain", I couldn't have said it better myself.

"What do you think? Should (and could) schools do more to help teenagers mature?"

Since what schools are doing stifles kids, I think they should do LESS rather than more.

I think this article, and the book, will make an even better case in favor of homeschooling, or interest-led learning. Most children who are homeschooled have much more freedom in what they will be studying, for how long, what interests they will pursue, and many are even apprenticing or starting community college classes as early as age 14. While they spend time with friends (of different ages), they also spend more time with their family--parents who can model adult behavior, as opposed to 25 kids their own age modeling irresponsible or even dangerous behaviors. I can't wait to read the book.

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Recent Comments

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  • Cheryl - Radar Engineer/Math Teacher/Parent: "Growing up shouldn't be defined by rules and restrictions... Some read more
  • Todd DeKay: Great article! The title caught my eye but the wisdom read more
  • Paul Hoss: Am a recently retired Massachusetts public school teacher (34 years) read more
  • Larkin Phillips, Technical Education Administrator: High school is a "lock step" system for all students read more




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