Sometimes it’s surprising what will get them talking

My aim as an educator is to bring about “catch fire” experiences in the classroom, so to that end I try to make my material engaging primarily to myself and then to the students. Yes, you read that right: teacher engagement is the sine qua non of successful learning. (One of the worst courses I ever took was taught by a professor who regularly used to pull lecture notes from a filing cabinet that was decades old and read those notes as a lecture during what was supposed to be a discussion-based seminar.) (Of course—and pardon me as my parenthetical asides multiply—we’ve all suffered at the other extreme where the teacher is so obviously fired up about a subject that leaves the entirety of the class cold. Teacher engagement is a necessary but insufficient condition for successful learning.)

I’m disentangling myself from parentheses to bring us back to the point I really want to make, which is that sometimes I take risks with material that I consider vital to the discussion even if I fear that students will have to slog through it with a little less enthusiasm. What I thought would be the necessary evil in my Transitions to Adulthood program was the opening unit on legal definitions of adulthood. Continue reading


Transitions to Adulthood: 2-day program for Youth Communication

I’m excited to share with you the overview of the program I’m running for Youth Communication. I’ve put together a workbook for the participants, with activity sheets and space for notes and freewriting.




This sequence of discussions is designed for a group of young people (ages 15 to 20) attending Youth Communication’s 2012 Summer Writing Workshop. In line with this year’s theme of identity, this two-day program gives participants a rich and structured context in which to explore their own passages to adulthood.

The underlying premise is that becoming an adult is not something that happens overnight (on your 18th or 21st birthday), but rather something that takes place gradually and not without some amount of heartache and hardship.

Together we will discuss the concept of adulthood, beginning first with major institutional definitions coming from the legal and scientific fields, and moving through developmental psychology toward cultural definitions in the realms of sociology and anthropology.

The goal is for participants to use this knowledge as a framework for formulating personal definitions of adulthood that resonate in their own lives, and also for generating stories for YCTeen or Represent.

Syllabus Continue reading

At what age do we reach adulthood?

Having just sent off a draft of my lesson plans to Youth Communication, I saw this debate in the Times: “When Do Kids Become Adults?” The discussion touches on a lot of the issues that I bring up in my workshops: recent findings in neuroscience on the time it takes for the brain to reach maturity; how the law sets up different—and often arbitrary—age limits for activities such as drinking, driving, and voting; and more to the point, the distinction between the age of majority and true maturity. No one can blame the law for drawing lines in shifting sands, but it’s always a good exercise to evaluate the laws we live under in light of scientific findings and practical concerns, without of course losing sight of the politics and history behind them.