editor's notes. This piece is not written by a high
schooler. The message in the piece is relevant to all of us.
Let's End Adolescence
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich
says young people need to shift more quickly from childhood to adulthood
by Newt Gingrich
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
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
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
at 13 and at 14 was employed as secretary and interpreter by the American
Russia. At 16 he was secretary to the U.S.
delegation during the negotiations with Britain
that ended the Revolution. …
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. …
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. … http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/