Posts tagged ‘AmeriCorps’

January 30, 2012

Put kids to work to fix the problem of delayed adolescence

by Grace

Reason for delayed adolescence is that prefontal lobes aren’t properly exercised
Psychology professor Alison Gopnik offers a solution for the problem of delayed adolescence among young people, many of whom are spending their twenties in directionless and unproductive activities.  Here’s the root of  the problem.

 … contemporary children have very little experience with the kinds of tasks that they’ll have to perform as grown-ups

The solution
We need to treat kids more like grownups in giving them the kinds of experiences they will face as adults.  Experiences where they must achieve a real goal in real time.  School apparently is not doing this for most kids, so we must give give them other tasks such as cooking, caregiving, and even jobs.

A Berkeley professor and Newt Gingrich agree that we should make children work?  Amazing.

Instead of simply giving adolescents more and more school experiences—those extra hours of after-school classes and homework—we could try to arrange more opportunities for apprenticeship. AmeriCorps, the federal community-service program for youth, is an excellent example, since it provides both challenging real-life experiences and a degree of protection and supervision.

Nature vs nurture – The argument is that experience can significantly alter the development of the prefontal lobes, thereby playing an important role in reversing this trend of delayed adulthood.

This new explanation also illustrates two really important and often overlooked facts about the mind and brain. First, experience shapes the brain. People often think that if some ability is located in a particular part of the brain, that must mean that it’s “hard-wired” and inflexible. But, in fact, the brain is so powerful precisely because it is so sensitive to experience. It’s as true to say that our experience of controlling our impulses make the prefrontal cortex develop as it is to say that prefrontal development makes us better at controlling our impulses. Our social and cultural life shapes our biology.

Second, development plays a crucial role in explaining human nature. The old “evolutionary psychology” picture was that genes were directly responsible for some particular pattern of adult behavior—a “module.” In fact, there is more and more evidence that genes are just the first step in complex developmental sequences, cascades of interactions between organism and environment, and that those developmental processes shape the adult brain. Even small changes in developmental timing can lead to big changes in who we become.

The role of schools
No doubt our expectations and actions often infantilize children.  I do think that part of this is in reaction to the academic pressure coming from misguided public school policies.  For example, pushing developmentally-inappropriate literacy skills down to younger grades can cause parents to become over-involved and overprotective of their  children.  Similarly, assigning elementary students projects requiring advanced Internet skills and organizational abilities can establish a trend for excessive parental involvement in their children’s school work.

In a similar vein, Brett Nelson at Forbes proposes  “grownup training”  to help young people on their road to maturity.

… 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. (Of course, mandated military or civil service between high school and college is nothing new. Austria, Brazil, Finland, Greece, Russia, Turkey and Vietnam all require between six months and two years of service. Israel demands three years from its men and two from its women, after which many would-be undergrads take what the English call a “gap year” to travel the globe before heading off to college.)

HT Joanne Jacobs

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