Preparing Teens to Face Future Challenges

Introduction

Adolescents face many challenges in this particularly sensitive stage in their lives. They are fraught with so many issues that affect their thinking, choices and behaviors. Adolescence is a very trying time. It is when an individual struggles to establish his own identity in the face of changes and challenges that come his way. Not only are they adjusting to physical changes, but also emotional and social changes as well. For some, there is more to it than the usual adjustment to change, as some factors gravely affect their school performance.

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Young people need to be guided accordingly by adults in preparing for the challenges they are bound to face in the future. Currently, this fast-paced world brings about so many changes that as one gets used to a new practice, another one is developed to replace it. Four issues that directly affect teens’ formation of their views and character as future citizens of this planet shall be discussed in this paper, namely: diversity, homeschooling, information revolution and quality of public education. Opposing views shall be presented and argued as to how the issue will affect adolescents as they prepare for their future.

The Issue of Diversity

Globalization has brought about a multitude of issues on diversity. Teenagers get exposed to people, principles, cultures, ideas and views which may be very different from what they have grown up with. The two opposing views on diversity are as follows:

  • Students benefit from a classroom environment that encourages the study and discussion of diverse viewpoints (National Council for the Social Studies, 2002).
  • A focus on diversity and multiculturalism at U.S. colleges and universities is undermining higher education (Kimball, 2003).

Diversity is a fact of life. The main influence of diversity on adolescence is how they would be tolerant of it, especially if it goes against what they believe in. The first argument encourages teenagers to engage in discussions with people with differing viewpoints, to get out of their comfort zones and venture into the unfamiliar because this is the reality they will deal with in the future. In the process, they develop tolerance for diversity.

The National Council for the Social Studies (2002) have determined that psychological characteristics like level of dogmatism, authoritarianism and self-esteem influence how an individual becomes tolerant of differences. For example, a person who is very set in his beliefs, raised in an authoritarian environment that has trained him to accept its views unconditionally, and has low self-esteem, is likely to be intolerant of others’ differing views.

Teachers who encourage an “open classroom climate”, push their students to air divergent viewpoints to stimulate their thinking and test their faithfulness to their long-held beliefs. When students hear different perspectives, it helps them understand an issue better and become less likely to feel threatened by views opposed to theirs.

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Adolescents are more aware of political and civil issues and are capable of linking abstract principles with concrete situations. An example is how they interpret the September 11 terrorist attacks. Being immersed in a classroom climate that bounces off opposing ideas on this controversial issue helps them understand how being tolerant of such diversity of ideas embodies democracy.

On the other hand, Kimball renounces schools too lenient about advocating diversity. Some colleges and universities are not consistent in accepting diverse groups as they claim, so in the interest of authenticity, should just be open about their political leaning. Espousing diversity attracts various personalities and views of faculty who may open the floodgates to left-wing thinking that may adversely affect student’s character formation especially if they invoke the youth to be politically agitated.

The 19th century British poet and critic Matthew Arnold proposes the ideal of “disinterestedness” when students are prompted to be critical in adhering to diverse issues. This does not mean being apathetic or wanting of a point of view, but rather being analytical and objective of the issue and inquisitive of further knowledge, refusing to be convinced of “ulterior, political, practical considerations about ideas.”

Homeschooling

Another issue that is brewing controversy is homeschooling. It has become an alternative to traditional schooling of a growing number of families. Opposing views on homeschooling are as follows:

  1. “Home education is not a reasonable choice for most children, as they need to spend time with peer groups to fulfill social needs. While home-schooled students may succeed academically, they may also fail to achieve that sense of independence generally acquired when attending public school. Additionally, home-schooled children may not learn problem-solving skills that are normally acquired through everyday interaction in public school circumstances” (Bowditch, 2002).
  2. “Home schooling neither isolates children nor harms their academic growth; it does, however, come close to the true definition of education: the passing down of culture” (Jeub, 1994).

The first view acknowledges that home-schooled children may excel academically, and even outstrip their peers in academic tests. However, socially, they are deprived of experiencing normal peer interactions that bring about challenging situations that make them stronger as individuals. The social adjustment that goes with being with other young people or situations that make them struggle to survive on their own build character and develop coping skills they would need as grown ups in the real world. These life lessons are as important as academic skills they pride themselves in being very good at, considering they learn these under the exclusive tutelage of their eagerly supportive parents.

When a child attends school, he realizes that the world does not revolve around him, and therefore, learns to adapt accordingly. He establishes friendships with people outside his family and these experiences cannot be replicated at home even with a creative education designed by his parents.

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Homeschooling educators come to its defense. Parents choose this schooling alternative because of valid reasons too. They believe that their children have the best of both worlds, as they can still participate in clubs and homeschooling support groups without being exposed to the dangers that lurk around children like drugs, sex or violence since they are under strict supervision by their parents. Homeschoolers get to be active in community events, More than that, it is the academic freedom they enjoy, as they have the liberty to be presented with opportunities for student creativity and independent thinking.

Add to that, parents can infuse religion and specific cultural lessons to customize education for their own children. This constitutes the true purpose of education, they believe, as it becomes successful in transmitting cultural heritage to the younger generation.

Homeschooling accomplishes what current educational philosophy advocates, that of helping students to learn at their own pace, integration of disciplines for a more holistic education, and the provision of individual attention and assessment for each student. Homeschooled students have more opportunities to pursue their natural interests balanced with the attention they need to develop ways of thinking which may be more difficult for them. Pat Farenga says, “Children, like adults, need time to be alone to think, to muse, to read freely, to daydream, to be creative, to form a self independent of the barrage of mass culture.” Due to the flexibility of the home environment, this is easier achieved than in more restrictive, traditional classrooms.

Still another controversial issue that stirs up debates among educators is the role of information technology in a student’s learning. The following are two points that are butting heads:

  1. “The computer’s natural speed does not foster the slow, patient thought required for the comprehension of complex ideas. Schoolchildren should still be taught the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic in order to develop the critical thinking capacity to interpret and understand the high volume of information that will be produced in the future.” (Himmelfarb, 1996)
  2. “Schools must change in order to prepare students for the workplace of the future. The information revolution is transforming the work world and will require future workers to be flexible and to have updated skills and knowledge. Therefore, schools must use technological innovations to teach students how to work cooperatively in gathering, analyzing, and utilizing information.” (National Academy of Sciences, 1995).

The youth today live in a world that spins so fast that their adult counterparts can hardly cope with the barrage of changes that spring up with every new invention and innovation. Information technology is a double-edged sword that be a boon or a bane to education. Traditionalists cannot stop time from moving forward with technological advancements, yet maintain that students need to be taught traditional methods that have worked well in developing an individual’s thinking long before the birth of information technology.

Multimedia or Hypermedia may be overstimulating to children and the sounds and images may take away their focus on the essential messages an educational material may want to project. This may be observed when students used to multimedia tools are given books which only have words and ideas to offer. “Worse yet, the constant exposure to a myriad of texts, sounds, and images that often are only tangentially related to each other is hardly conducive to the cultivation of logical, rational, systematic habits of thought” (Himmelfarb, 1996).

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This means the rich and fast information sputtered out of the internet or software programs are indiscriminate of a topic’s value over another, as one press of a key gives the same impact and emphasis on all topics available. Whereas in more traditional tools such as books, a chapter or two may be dedicated to more important topics authors deem highly significant for a learner to imbibe.

Known as the information highway, the internet may offer a multitude of road signs leading towards any topic of interest. The risk is for students to be shown the way to dangerous grounds. Restricted sites for children may now be easily gotten around with, and these sites may pull the youth towards a dark world which imbue bad influences inappropriate in molding a young individual’s character.

The opposing viewpoint chooses not to look towards that bleak direction. It is more hopeful of a future school filled with great possibilities. It is idealistic in predicting that anyone at any age can have access to a good education at their own time, thanks to the convenience that technology brings! An entirely new model of education is at hand. “With imaginative, inspiring software, students are not forced to come up with the one right answer; rather, they learn to ask many questions and to devise multiple approaches to a problem.

They learn at their own pace and in their own style, so that skilled students advance without restraint while other students have the various resources they need to meet high standards” (National Academy of Sciences,1995). This article was written more than a decade ago, and its prediction is now being realized with online universities and open education. Following the lead of Anderson & Elloumi (2004) who advise “As learners work through the content, they will find the need for learner support, which could take the form of learner-to-learner, learner-to-instructor, instructor-to-learner, and learner-to-expert interactions.

There should be strategies to promote learner-context interaction to allow learners to apply what they learn in real life so that they can contextualize the information. Learner-context interaction allows learners to develop personal knowledge and construct personal meaning from the information.” (Anderson & Elloumi, 2004) Online students interact with the facilitator via email or webchats, with other students via the chatrooms or discussion boards, the newsletters or through email and of course, interaction with the module content.

“Learner support services start with making sure that there is an appropriate fit between the students’ learning and professional goals and current capabilities with the offerings and structure of the education provider’s online programs. This interaction with potential students not only helps them feel immediately connected with the learning community, but the diagnostic activities help them reflect on their learning goals and strategies, a process important to self-directed learning.” (Ludwig-Hardman & Dunlap, 2003)

An ideal online learning system will be based on a plan that flows from a full understanding of two fundamentals: the needs of the intended students, and the learning outcomes of the course or program (i.e., the knowledge, skills, and attributes that students want).” (Anderson & Elloumi, 2004). It differs from traditional learning in that “classroom experiences emphasize critical thinking, teamwork, compromise, and communication—the skills valued in today’s workplace” (National Academy of Sciences,1995). The student takes a more active role in his learning while the teacher steps back just to guide the learning process and not to spoon-feed information.

The virtual classroom is getting to be an ideal alternative to adults who want a second chance at education. The problem is that being adults, they have to juggle a number of responsibilities in their careers and family life. Setting up a synchronous schedule online for a group lesson is difficult to attain and maintain considering the global profiles of the learners.

“The ASKS (asynchronous knowledge sharing) prototype is designed to overcome these difficulties. It uses discussion boards with capabilities characteristic of most group decision support systems (Nunamaker, Dennis, Valacich, Vogel, & George, 1991). Learners and instructors access the system directly via the Web.” The discussion board is the vehicle used to communicate each one’s thoughts on certain matters related to the lessons.

“The ultimate goal of this new model of education is to foster communities of lifelong learners, where intellect and cooperation are highly valued. Within these communities, decisions will be made by those in the best position to make them—by students, teachers, and educational administrators” (National Academy of Sciences,1995).

In relation to the foregoing discussion is an assessment of the current quality of education schools provide. Again, two opposing forces are at a disagreement:

“The quality of public education in the United States has deteriorated. Despite recent reform efforts, national and international test scores reveal that American student performance has gradually declined since 1970. Inefficient bureaucracies, irresponsible teachers’ unions, lightweight curricula, and a lack of teacher preparedness have created this ongoing crisis in American education” (Bethell, as mentioned in Hoover Digest, 2003).

“There is no great crisis in American education. Critics fail to acknowledge that the United States ranks high in competitiveness, granting it an economic edge in the global arena. American competitiveness, innovation, and creativity are not linked to test scores but to a generally good educational system that encourages questioning and critical thinking” (Bracey, 2002).

This issue seems to beg critical evaluation from stakeholders in the public educational system. On one hand, in spite of reform efforts of more money being spent on education to raise teachers’ salaries, reduce classroom sizes, provision of educational vouchers for less unfortunate, minority students, critics claim that the there are no palpable improvements in teaching or student achievement.

E.D. Hirsch Jr., an emeritus professor at the University of Virginia and Koret Task Force member points out that teachers are unable to impart a coherent curriculum in the early grades because at the outset, their homes do not equip them with enough knowledge and tools needed to succeed such as the ability of reading with understanding. Teachers lament parents’ incapacity to follow up on lessons learned from school to reinforce the learning of their students. Hirsch calls on schools to go back to emphasizing the value and pursuit of knowledge if they are to be successful.

Accountability is another secret ingredient. Parents and reformers should be informed of school’s efforts to improve. In doing so, schools take responsibility for whatever results from these efforts. Parents need to be discriminating in their choice of schools, as their final choice must uphold high standards of education for their children.

Bracey (2002) strongly disagrees that there is anything wrong with American education. He strongly values the encouragement of questioning that American students seem to be strong at compared to their international counterparts who are more likely better seen than heard in their cultures. Compared to Japanese students, Americans may be more combative in challenging others’ assumptions and opinions, until they come up with a compromise before moving forward. The Japanese seem to be more reserved and civil and value peaceful settlements and submission to a more authoritative figure.

The kind of critical thinking embraced by American education gives them the edge in creativity. Bracey sees this as more valuable than the pursuit of high test scores that define success and high quality in most educational systems outside the US.

The opposing viewpoints are worth considering in preparing our teens to be the next generation of world leaders. It is now up to us to take our stand on particular issues and mold our children in accordance to what we believe would best prepare them for future challenges in their lives.

Conclusion

All the issues discussed can stir critical thinking and analysis in any parent or educator. Some viewpoints stubbornly cling to long held beliefs that have worked for many generations, and refuse to welcome changes that might “rock the boat” and cause falls into the deep waters of uncertain territories. Such viewpoints safely ensconce us deeper into our comfort zones.

Openness to change and innovation is a good thing. Helping our youth develop a broad perspective and pushing them to test unfamiliar waters would indeed drive them towards growth and progress. That would include welcoming diversity and alternative ways of learning other than the traditional school-based ones society has been so used to.

Of course, with this “thumbs up” to exploring new horizons is our loving and wise, discerning guidance to stick to strong morals and values. Arming them with a well-formed and strong character will definitely help them make the right decisions when faced with dilemmas that may pull them towards different directions.

Helping prepare our teens well to face future challenges is one herculean responsibility that requires commitment on our part. Take this as our contribution to mentoring the future generation of citizens of this world, which hopefully, will be a much better one than ours.

References

Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. (eds) (2004) Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Web.

Bowditch, G. (2002) “Home Education Deprives Children of Real Lessons”, Sunday Times (London).

Bracey, G.W. (2002) “What Crisis?” Washington Post National Weekly Edition, vol. 19, p. 23.

Himmelfarb, G. (1996) “A Neo-Luddite Reflects on the Internet,” Chronicle of Higher Education.

Jeub, C. (1994) “Why Parents Choose Home Schooling,”, Education Leadership.

Kimball, R. (2003) “Academia vs. America,” American Legion, Vol. 154, pp. 35–38.

Ludwig-Hardman, S. & Dunlap, J.C. (2003) “Learner Support Services for Online Students: Scaffolding for success”, The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Vol 4, No 1.

National Academy of Sciences (1995) Reinventing Schools: The Technology Is Now!. Web.

National Council for the Social Studies (2002) “Teaching Tolerance: What Research Tells Us,” Social Education, Vol. 66, pp. 270–72, 274.

Nunamaker, J., Jr., Dennis, A., Valacich, J., Vogel, D., & George, J. (1991) “Electronic meeting systems to support group work”, Communications of the ACM, 34, 40-61.

“Our Schools Are Still at Risk,” Hoover Digest, 2003.

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