The Myth of the Teen Brain: A Q&A with Dr. Epstein
- Friday, August 24, 2007
I’m interested in homeschooling as an alternative to conventional school, an alternative that can provide a good education and that can allow young people to progress at the pace they need to progress.
I’ve actually been discussing homeschooling with my two younger children lately, because their mother and I are talking about homeschooling now. My 8-year-old said, “Dad, will I have any trouble getting into college?” And I said, “Well, actually, given how smart you are, my guess is that if you want to go to college, you can go there years earlier if you are homeschooled.”
I’m shocked by how regular school can hold young people back. Recently our 6-year-old wanted, on her own, to learn cursive. And so she started learning it—her mom was helping her—and she was doing a beautiful job. The next thing we knew, we got a note from the school saying that we were forbidden to teach her cursive writing—that she had to wait until the 3rd grade! We ignored the note, of course.
At this point, I have many reasons for wanting to homeschool. And one reason has to do with my new book [The Case Against Adolescence], because in researching the book I looked at the history, I looked at the model of schooling in our country, I looked at some of the individuals who helped shape compulsory schooling laws. Know what? They didn’t always have the interests of young people in mind—they sometimes had other agendas, some of which were quite dark.
Some people are saying, “Isn’t homeschooling the answer to everything?” And my answer is no. I don’t think it’s the answer to all the issues I’m raising in my book, because schooling of any sort is not appropriate for all young people at all times. The modern compulsory school idea was a product of the Industrial Revolution, which modeled mass education on the new “assembly lines” that were being used in the factories. Homeschooling is still part of a larger system of compulsory education. It’s still governed by education laws in each state, and even the curriculum is still determined, to a large extent, by the larger system. But young people need the option to take a break from education and move out into the working world in meaningful ways. I don’t mean as cashiers, either—they should be able to compete with adults for any job, if they can show that they're competent. Based on their individual abilities, they need to be able to acquire a variety of adult rights and responsibilities and to learn and work side by side with adults, just as young people often do in the Bible.
In The Case Against Adolescence, you have a list entitled “Reintegrating teens into the adult world.” The rights in your list will be surprising to many parents—could you explain why you created this list?
Yes, first of all, it’s a very long list. I have to say, for the record, I was very uncomfortable creating that list, because I am a parent of four children, and I was raised to believe that young people need to be protected, that they’re inherently incompetent and irresponsible. I want to protect my children, and I want to protect all young people. I really struggled with writing that chapter. The rights I list are shocking in some respects. But the truth is that all young people are not the same, just as all elderly people are not the same. We have to look away from age and look at ability, look at competence.
Again, I learned so much in researching and writing this book over a nine-year period, and my own opinions were deeply challenged.
I know that if we move in the direction of a competency-based system, we’ll start to see teen turmoil disappear, and we’ll have young people working with us, instead of being our enemies. And they will not be so afraid and confused about growing up, because they’ll be growing up where they’re supposed to be growing up—that is, among adults.
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