JWR Roger SimonMona CharenLinda Chavez
Larry ElderJonathan S. Tobin
Thomas SowellWilliam PfaffRobert Scheer
Don FederCal Thomas
Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / May 1, 1998 / 5 Iyar, 5758

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell Abolish Adolescence!

PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE in free markets and traditional values are often called "conservatives," but this is one of the most misleading labels around. These ideals are not the same as conserving the status quo, because the status quo includes all sorts of economic interferences by government and all sorts of whacko ideas and practices that are at the opposite pole from traditional values.

It would take radical changes in many of our theories and policies to restore the kinds of things believed in by people who are labeled "conservatives." One of these radical changes would be what I would call the abolition of adolescence.

It is only relatively recently, as history is measured, that teenagers have had the luxury of being adolescent. Today we are appalled at the thought of teenage mothers but, for most of history, most mothers were teenagers when they had their first child. But they were not adolescents.

It was understood that girls would get married in their teens and that they would need both maturity and numerous skills to cope with the demands of creating a home and raising a family. Boys likewise had to be prepared to take on a man's responsibilities, which included not only work in factories and farms, but also the protection of his home and family, especially in frontier areas.

There was little time for all the irresponsible self-indulgences that we today associate with adolescence. Was life grim? Sometimes. But there was also a sense of personal fulfillment at having met life's challenges and mastered them.

It is today's over-indulged teenagers who are committing suicide in record numbers or seeking escape into drugs, cults and other self-destructive behavior. Life's inherent challenges that helped create maturity in the past have now been largely removed by our dumbed-down schools, rigid child labor laws and indulgent parents.

Given the incredible wastes of time in our schools, with their endless non-academic projects, it would be no trick at all to condense the high school education of today into eight years. This is not speculation. It has already been done.

Anyone who looks back at the kinds of tests that past generations had to take to graduate at the end of eight years can hardly avoid wondering how many of our high school graduates today could pass such tests.

There were some lousy schools then, as there are now, and many youngsters never reached high school. But the point here is simply that it has already been shown that children can learn a lot more than our schools are teaching them -- and in fewer years.

Eight years of genuine education -- without touchy-feely mush and trendy social projects -- would leave teenagers free to get out into the real world, where they could grow up. Those who wanted more education could continue on in school and those who wanted to return later could do so. But compulsory attendance laws and child labor laws need not continue to hold teenagers hostage for the benefit of an education establishment that needs warm bodies to justify their own jobs or labor unions who want to reduce the competition faced by their members.

The kinds of back-breaking jobs that made child labor an abomination in centuries past have been replaced by the kinds of jobs where anyone who is strong enough to operate a computer can do valuable work. Yet the vested interests of labor unions and the education establishment ensure that any attempt to relax the child labor laws will be met by massive and hysterical propaganda campaigns.

Images of child labor from the days when it meant little children working in coal mines are invoked to oppose letting the bigger and healthier teenagers of today work on the Internet or carry pieces of paper in air-conditioned offices.

Our schools -- and even colleges -- have far too many young people who do not want to be there and who are wasting their time and the taxpayers' money by being there. Too much of what is called "education" is little more than an expensive isolation from reality.

The billions of dollars this costs the taxpayers are outweighed by the personal costs paid by listless "students" whose adolescence is needlessly prolonged. Some of them will never grow up.

4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.