Friday, September 25, 2009

Discussion Item for 25.September

Assertion: The insistence that even late 'teen-age human beings are "still really children" is one of the great canards of overprotective minds in modern day.

Example: It hasn't been all *that* long since a young man in Japan was considered adult at 15... certainly old enough to fight if he was of the military class. In the last ~60 years neither vote nor drink, much less the obligations of adulthood, are burdens placed on persons before the age of 20.

So when someone brings out that presumption of incompetence in those still living their second decade, you could point out all the good done by Americans of ages 18 and 19 who are by most measures functioning adults. The American Armed Forces are a professional volunteer force that values experience, but even in that environment, the average age of a soldier out on deployment barely cracks the low 20's.


you could simply point to examples of premeditated, competent, intention to do harm on a large scale, and note the accused is... 19 years old.

Discussion item:

Which is it? Are they really all just children, some wayward, others led astray, others even kidnapped and brainwashed into being child soldiers; if society can just find a way to set them on the straight path they will be saved? Or are human beings competent at a far younger age than is generally accepted in modern society and thus should have both the privileges and punishments meted out to "adults"?


Will said...

I think you'll have trouble with the concept of adulthood in the US at least:

You can sign a contract at 18.

When I was a kid you couldn't get a work permit until 14, but I don't know the law now.

While there is no draft at this time, the vietnam-era draft age was 18.

Children are required (in theory) to attend school until age 16.

14 year-olds are routinely tried as adults for their crimes. (And some juveniles are sentenced to life-without-parole.)

You can drive at 16 in many states, but some restrict your driving privileges until 18.

You can't legally drink until age 21.

I'm sure I'm missing some great examples, but there is clearly a conflict in what we consider "adult" and "responsible" in the US.

Mr. Bill said...

To add to what Will has said, the age of consent laws are different state-by-state in the US and different within states based on whether those engaged in intimate congress are the same or different genders. This tells me that in some places in the United States and the world, heterosexuals are legally more competent than homosexuals, and in other places in the United States and the world, homosexuals are legally more competent than heterosexuals.

Taking age of consent laws and minors tried as adults into consideration, it is possible for an adult to be accused of child molestation and for that victim of child molestation to be tried, as an adult, for his or her own crimes. [The example here being the Beltway Sniper duo]. Is that minor a child or an adult? Both, it seems, under the law, and in neither case to anyone's advantage.

L.Douglas Garrett said...

Heh, "trouble with the concept"... that is the story of my life.


To both replies (Will and Mr. Bill); thank you, gents. Here's a bit more to gnaw on:

Private contracts in the U.S. (and Canada, IIRC) may be executable by an 18 year old, but most all contracts with an obligation to meet a liability are limited (by the provider, not law) to those 25+ years old. The classroom example of such was a Rental Car contract.

There is always a danger in involving age of consent, or marriagable age, or that old nasty statutory rape in these sort of discussions. Those concepts all being rooted in Property Rights concepts makes them a little different than the more clearly defined situations you've both mentioned.

OK... how about...
((looks at Will's list))

It looks like the floor for the priv/oblig of "majority" is about 14 years old in the U.S.

How about a universal recognition of adulthood as being 15 years old?


Will said...


We'd have huge economic problems if we set adulthood that low. What kind of jobs can someone with a grammar-school education fill?

Adulthood at 15 suited an agrarian society where most work was low-skilled and trades had years of apprenticeship. That's just not true any more.

Productivity of the workforce in the developed world has increased tremendously since 1900. (It probably did before that too, but I don't have any figures from then.) From 1900 to the 1970s productivity increased about 1% per year.

That increase tracked pretty closely with the number of years of schooling for the average worker. We hit current levels of schooling in the 70s IIRC and productivity growth went down to about 1/2% per year until something happened in the 90s to take it back to 1% per year.

Suddenly taking 3 years of education out of our workers would erase a huge part of our productivity, and that kind of change would be extremely painful, and perhaps catastrophic.

There are other problems as well, but I'm not a good enough writer to produce the kind of essay that would cover it properly, and this isn't the format for it anyway.

L.Douglas Garrett said...


"...but I'm not a good enough writer..."

Actually, IMO you are doing fine. You've addressed many of the issues that make mid-teen majority problematic.

Here's one more then to try and toss that apple cart (as much for Devil's Advocacy as for any real disagreement):

"Suddenly taking 3 years of education out of our workers would erase a huge part of our productivity, and that kind of change would be extremely painful, and perhaps catastrophic."

That sounds perilously close to saying that a State or a Proprietary (in this case Parental) intervention is the only way to oblige young people to continue their education beyond the age of majority. Yet the phenomenal and by many measures unwarranted rise in University and College attendance has continued over the last 6 decades, and that is clearly a choice driven by economic competition and circumstance, not obligation to one's guardian.

How does that fit with your "loss of years of education" concept?

Mr. Bill said...

I have something for both of you to consider with your last two replies. Will is concerned, at least in part, that considering 15-year-olds as adults would rob the general work force of three years' education in those workers. He also noted that that age was great in an agrarian society.

Note that our exisiting education yearly schedule for primary & secondary schools is STILL based on an agrarian system.

Were our education schedules based on our industrial society, I think it's possible that fifteen-year-old "adults" could be educated to the point eighteen-year-olds are now.

Assuming twelve years of education in the agrarian system of 8-months-on-4-months-off, that's 96 months of education between the ages of 6 and 18, or twelve calendar years x 8 months per year = 96 months' education. Change that to ten-and-two-thirds months per calendar year of education, and it's the same amount of gross educational time in a more compact time frame.

I am sure that just swapping over current educational processes to a different calendar wouldn't solve the entire problem; starting with the altered calendar, however, offers a viable hypothetical model, since it can include the same amount of educational time.

Success would involve a lot of re-thinking about social psychology, maturity, educational theory, societal accpetions, etc., etc. However, I think it's possible for a mature society that is geared for fifteen-year-old adults to have fifteen-year-old adults.

Mr. Bill said...

Please note "accpetions" in the last paragraph of the immediately preceding post ought to read "acceptabilities".

Will said...

@LDG: It's not so much that adults wouldn't choose to attend high school, and more that making a living and still attending 6-8 hours of classes *and* doing homework wouldn't work for many/most young people.

Would parents continue to support these teenaged adults? Of course many would, but I expect the universal friction between parents and teenagers would make that problematic.

Ultimately this connects with Mr. Bill's point. We don't prepare kids for adulthood at 15 in our culture.

@Mr. Bill: I was going to address the cultural problems with early adulthood, but I had more facts for the economic argument.

I actually consider the cultural changes we'd need to be a much more difficult issue. It may be possible to imagine a modern society that embraces early adulthood, but I don't see any quick path to there from here.

L.Douglas Garrett said...

Amusing... It seems some elements of our discussion are of a timely nature.

Karl Reisman said...

Suddenly taking 3 years of education out of our workers would erase a huge part of our productivity, and that kind of change would be extremely painful, and perhaps catastrophic.

Oh you mean like California? floded by workers from Mexico with a 6th grade education, at best, and illiterate at worst? The strain on social servies is breaking the bank.