Trevin Wax posted on how he came across an article recently in The Wall Street Journal titled“What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind?” It explores the cultural changes leading to a contemporary vision of “adolescence”:
In gatherer-hunter and farming societies, childhood education involves formal and informal apprenticeship. Children have lots of chances to practice the skills that they need to accomplish their goals as adults, and so to become expert planners and actors. The cultural psychologist Barbara Rogoff studied this kind of informal education in a Guatemalan Indian society, where she found that apprenticeship allowed even young children to become adept at difficult and dangerous tasks like using a machete.
In the past, to become a good gatherer or hunter, cook or caregiver, you would actually practice gathering, hunting, cooking and taking care of children all through middle childhood and early adolescence—tuning up just the prefrontal wiring you’d need as an adult.
The article then pointed out the loss of this way of learning and its impact on society today:
Contemporary children have very little experience with the kinds of tasks that they’ll have to perform as grown-ups. Children have increasingly little chance to practice even basic skills like cooking and caregiving. Contemporary adolescents and pre-adolescents often don’t do much of anything except go to school. Even the paper route and the baby-sitting job have largely disappeared…
The author concludes by pleading for the return of apprenticeship as a way of helping teenagers move forward into adulthood.
Instead of simply giving adolescents more and more school experiences—those extra hours of after-school classes and homework—we could try to arrange more opportunities for apprenticeship. AmeriCorps, the federal community-service program for youth, is an excellent example, since it provides both challenging real-life experiences and a degree of protection and supervision.
“Take your child to work” could become a routine practice rather than a single-day annual event, and college students could spend more time watching and helping scientists and scholars at work rather than just listening to their lectures. Summer enrichment activities like camp and travel, now so common for children whose parents have means, might be usefully alternated with summer jobs, with real responsibilities.
As Trevin wrote, within youth ministry we spend a lot of time talking about the ever extended adolescence to both younger and older people. Does apprenticeship have a role within this context? Biblically disciples were apprentices, living life alongside their teacher. Does this challenge us to how we teach and encourage young people?