Speaking Out: The Adolescent

I shared recently with a friend about my upcoming work in Poland where I will lead a Montessori secondary teacher education course. I then listened to his concerns about his teenage daughter.  She's not who she once was, he lamented. I asked, how is she different? His answer was that of a person in mourning, mourning how she used to share her need to understand bugs and math problems and geographical land and water forms, and how they used to ride bikes together and read bedtime stories, how they used to do just about everything together .... But as he continued, he focused on one difference in particular: She used to love to learn in school. Now all she wants to do is talk and text with friends, and, as far as he could tell, these distract from her school work. I asked him to describe her school work, and, not too surprisingly, it mostly involved memorization, and she struggled with concentration.

Sadly, too many children today are learning to memorize when they need to learn to think. Most of us (parents) did memorize throughout our school years, and most of us did really well. We memorized because the world we grew into was supposed to resemble that of our parents. So, what they memorized would serve us well too. 

But we live now in an ever-changing future. We live in a world of planned and conducted disruption. Most professions today are not conducting their business or practices the way they did months ago. So, memorize, why? Why when everything is but a google away? 

Learning to think is different than learning to memorize. Thinking involves a host of skills such as creativity, problem solving, communication, persistence, applying understanding to new situations, and much more. Adolescents do not learning to think as they did when they were children. Children learn to think with objects and through movement. Toddlers, for example, move all the time. It's how they develop coordination, and adults would never ask toddlers to stop toddling (although they once did). Adolescents also are movement oriented, and they also learn through talk. Oddly, adults do ask adolescents to stop talking.

A chief learning goal for adolescents is becoming part of the adult social world. In this world, adults occupy numerous social roles - employer, employee, colleague, co-worker, producer, consumer, healer, educator, parent, child, sibling, friend, and much more. Each role is marked by kinds of talk and other behaviors, and by rules for when to talk about with whom and for how long and how to signal a change in roles. We assign information and correct behavior to each role. The information I share with my wife is different from what I share with a co-worker. We usually restrict loud yelling, screaming, and jumping up on our feet to stadiums rather than coffee shops. We are socialized; children and adolescents are figuring all of this out.

Adolescents learn to think when they can talk, when they can express self, when they are guided by mentoring adults who listen without judgement. Having raised two, I do miss bedtime story time. But I am still in awe of their adult selves.