About one hundred years ago, American psychologists, observing the chaotic and dysfunctional life of adolescents with no purposeful work to do and no role models to follow, started to define adolescence as a kind of disease brought on, they assumed, by the rapid development of sex hormones. The “rebelliousness” of adolescence was seen as an aberration, something that had ‘gone wrong’; and something that meant that teenagers were becoming a threat to themselves. Psychologists and educational bureaucrats agreed that this unacceptable state should be treated with extended years of schooling to “protect” teenagers from screwing up. And that was exactly how they saw it1.
The immediate answer (an answer still being given even now in the 21st century), was to put adolescents into formal, structured school environments for longer periods of time, requiring excessive hours of studying to ensure they would have neither the time nor the energy to question, rebel or challenge the adults around them. In this was the birth of the modern secondary school, a kind of holding ground, if you will, until it was safe to let adolescents out into the world2.
This has been especially true over the last 60 years, where it has been repeatedly decided that longer hours, more tests, more homework, more isolated specialization and the study of theory over practice will improve educational standards and create “accountability”. It now appears, however, that bureaucrats have based those decisions on faulty understandings of how humans learn and the nature and purpose of adolescence.
Sitting confined within the walls of a classroom memorizing abstract and disconnected pieces of information is fundamentally opposed to the biological pre-dispositions of the teenage brain. Adolescents are broad-based thinkers, innately designed to learn by doing, trying, challenging and working things out for themselves. Traditional forms of secondary education offer very little opportunity to learn in line with their natural predispositions. Its time that we started building learning opportunities that go with the grain of the brain, incorporating strategies to contextualize learning, such as cognitive apprenticeship.
Education should not just prepare students to do things, but to decide what is worth doing.
Programs at Work