Saturday, September 20, 2003

Public Schools and Anti-Social Behavior

I caught a snatch of Bill O'Reilly's show the other night, and he was interviewing Robert Epstein, West Coast editor for Psychology Today and director emeritus of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies. O'Reilly began the segment with some footage of a teenage gang beating up a young man. Thanks to LEXIS, here's a snippet from the transcript:
EPSTEIN: Well, from my perspective, I think the problem is that these teens that we call children are not really children at all. They're past puberty. These are really young adults.

And throughout human history and in other cultures to this day, past puberty, young people work with adults. They're not corralled together, a bunch of teens in a pen, you know, waiting to get in trouble, and that's what we've done, and...

We've corralled them together, we're not allowing them to function as adults, and some of them get angry, some of them get crazy, some of them...

O'REILLY: So you're saying by having a high school system where they hang out among each other, this is causing violent, aberrant behavior?

EPSTEIN: I'm saying that that's entirely unnatural, and I've been able to track around the world where western culture and western schooling is put in place, we go from a culture where there are no teen problems whatsoever -- I mean none, zero violence, zero drugs...

O'REILLY: Where is that?

EPSTEIN: Where -- different countries in Africa. We're talking about Taiwan. We're talking about Japan. I've documented it virtually all over the world at this point. I'm working on a book on it.

O'REILLY: But Japan has a high school system.

EPSTEIN: They -- they most certainly do, but wherever western practices, western television, western media, movies, and a school system - - where all those things come into play, the problem just grows and grows and grows.
I was intrigued by Epstein's argument, as it seemed to provide yet another piece of evidence that people have things exactly backwards when they criticize homeschooling for its purportedly inferior socialization. But I wondered what evidence he had for the detrimental effects of modern schooling. So I found his email address on the web today, and emailed him with this question:

Can you point me to any publications or scholarly literature that demonstrates the correlation you mentioned, or better yet, that traces out the causal factors involved?

He responded within the hour, and cited three sources. First, John Holt's book Escape from Childhood. (Holt's name is familiar from his involvement with the "unschooling" movement.)

Second, The World's Youth: Adolescence in Eight Regions of the Globe, edited by B. Bradford Brown, Reed W. Larson, and T. S. Saraswathi. This book, according to Epstein, "shows how the spread of Western schooling seems to produce American-style teen problems around the world."

Finally, Epstein referred me to his own book Adolescence Abolished: A New Way of Thinking About Our Teenagers, forthcoming next year, in which he builds a "more robust case" for his thesis. Yet another book to put on my Amazon wish list . . .



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