Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Creation of Adolescence?

That turbulent, hormone driven,'devil may care' period of human development is something people made up?
Hard to believe, right? But Epstein presents a convincing case as to how adolescence and the artificial extension of childhood came about since the mid 1800s in western culture at least:

*Nurturing tendencies by women (and some men) to protect the millions of young people toiling long hours in the new factories or getting into trouble on the streets
*The elevated status of women, which gave them a powerful new voice in policy making
*The widespread adoption of the new view that young people are tender, helpless and incompetent (reminds me of how people thought of women in the Victorian era!)
*Determined efforts by the new labour unions to protect the jobs and wages of older workers by pushing young people out of the work force
*The desire of leading industrialists to sweep the streets free of troublesome youths and to prepare new generations of skilled laborers through mass education
*The desire of leaders in the upper and middle classes to impose their moral standards on poor and working class youths
The emergence of new businesses and industries that catered to the young and helped to create a "youth culture."

Says Epstein,"Before these forces emerged, the troubled teen was a rarity in human history. With these forces in play, teens rapidly became isolated from adults and increasingly unhappy about their peculiar place in society;adults in body and mind, toddlers in status."

Here's what John Taylor Gatto says,in an interview with Jerry Brown about the lively America before the industrialists took hold of it: "Independent livelihood was where it was at! You know, back in the 1840's - 1850's it was impossible to assemble an American work force over 40, because people would only work for you long enough to get a little stake, and then cut off and go off on their own. When we look at the history of New England factories, that they're going to concerts, and dances and libraries for the young girls who worked there for just a couple of years until they could bring a little stake to their marriage. That was the American dream, that you could write the script to your own life! And very , very gradually, that dream was converted, and this is quite easy to track, not by evil people, but by people who understood that wealth depends on your ability to command labor. And unless you can assemble large groups of labor, you were never going to be wealthy as the Europeans reckoned wealth, or the English reckoned wealth."

Taylor Gatto places a strong emphasis on the individual, on the entrepreneur in control of himself and his livelihood. Gatto details the lives of archetypal Americans like Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Edison, who were independent, free-thinking leaders, none of whom spent more than two years in any kind of school, and yet all were leading productive, fulfilled lives by the time they were in their teens.

Write in and tell us what you think!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Expectations for youth these days are pretty low so often,kids act as they are expected to.
On the other hand many unschooled kids I know are suprisingly mature and confident-they are out there following their interests and looking for the kind of engagement and work that is relevant to these interests-right now,not some time in the future.

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