The compelling argument which high school teacher Christopher L. Doyle makes about kids and freedom suggests so. In an Education Week Commentary, Growing Up Scripted
And Losing Freedom Along the Way he suggests that few of his students think they will grow up to lead a free life. After exploring the state his students find themselves in, Doyle writes:
Every year, I make it a point to introduce my classes to people who are largely free to pursue their own passions—writers, dancers, painters—but most kids come away feeling merely awestruck by the artists’ talent and personality. It is hard to convince young people who have little firsthand experience with freedom, who read it as austere, uncomfortable, and implausible, that it is a legitimate aspiration.
To read this article on edweek.org requires a registration so I will post his words about solutions and let you decide if there is common ground.
I like to believe we could change direction. For starters, we could repeal the No Child Left Behind Act, offer free public education through college, eliminate most standardized tests, reconfigure town planning to make neighborhoods accessible to bicycles and pedestrians, and slash homework requirements. Doing so would be freeing.
Some people will find such proposals shocking. They see the heightened prescription of childhood as a positive development. They argue that to remain economically competitive, American kids must learn the same kind of self-discipline that their counterparts in China or India have. They also assert that because many children grow up without “structure” at home, especially poorer kids in cities, school must be all the more regimented and authoritarian. Modern life is often chaotic, so I understand why advocates of regulated childhoods have an audience.
Yet, much evidence suggests that these “reformers” have it wrong, that imposing new layers of discipline onto American kids’ lives will not lead to the production-oriented results they seek. We see, already, that the current state of prescription has produced a backlash: binge drinking is up, rates of mental illness among teenagers have risen, academic cheating is on the rise. Jonathan Kozol’s The Shame of the Nation shows how poor, inner-city schoolchildren suffer intellectually and spiritually in overregimented schools. But even if the advocates of more discipline and rigor are right, I question how the ends justify the means.
Our society puts a priority on freedom, at least in theory. We consider its export worldwide a noble diplomatic and military goal. We idealize freedom as the ultimate political and economic aspiration. When this cultural rhetoric is out of step with the experience of young people, we should not blame them for becoming cynical. Neither can we realistically demand that they make good use of freedom without allowing them opportunities to practice it.
Since 1776, Americans have touted freedom as the essence of our exceptionalism. We remove it from childhood at our peril.