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Continued: Let's give adolescents a chance to grow up

  • Article by: TED KOLDERIE
  • Last update: October 12, 2013 - 4:30 PM

Accelerating learning would have positive economics as well. Minnesota has about 75,000 juniors and 75,000 seniors; it spends about $10,000 on each. Multiply 10,000 by 150,000 and you get a rather large number. And that’s per year.

Actually, Minnesota has been doing this, if only gradually. In 1985, a “postsecondary option” was Rep. Connie Levi’s condition for supporting Gov. Rudy Perpich’s open enrollment. PSEO passed, letting juniors and seniors enroll full time or part time in any Minnesota college or university. That in turn has stimulated high schools to bring college into the schools.

The examples are interesting.

• In 2009, while finishing eighth grade (at 13), Caleb Kumar earned an associate of arts degree from North Hennepin Community College. At 15, for developing an algorithm to automate the diagnosis of bladder cancer, he received a $25,000 scholarship from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

• In 1998, Rob and Ryan Weber, twins, got an AA degree from North Hennepin through PSEO just before graduating from Osseo Senior High. They’d already been starting computer software businesses. Today, NativeX — started in 2000 with older brother Aaron — has more than 160 employees and offices in Sartell, Minn., Minneapolis and San Francisco.

To set youthful talent free, we would also enlarge the role of nonschool learning organizations: the science museums and art galleries and organizations like 4-H. We’d open new opportunities for work, and would credit and respect what young people learn from work. Firms hiring young people value these skills.

Young people can work outside school hours. Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire-Hathaway now owns the Hill railroads once headquartered in St. Paul, was keeping accounts for his first business at age 11. Elmer Andersen, Minnesota’s former governor, felt he succeeded partly because he got lots of life experiences early.

Finally, we could pick up Epstein’s idea to make adultness competency-based rather than age-based — letting young people “test out” of the restrictions of adolescence. He’s developed an assessment, given thousands of times, which he says establishes that between 15 and 85, the probability of people displaying adultness/maturity/responsibility is independent of age.

Treating teens more like adults clearly is the kind of idea, or paradigm change, that is not absorbed quickly. But it would be worth seeing how teenagers respond: People often do live up to what’s expected of them.


Ted Kolderie works on public-service redesign, and on the redesign of K-12 education, with the Center for Policy Studies. He has been a reporter and editorial writer with the Star Tribune, executive director of the Citizens League and a senior fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

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