By Arnold Kling
I believe that young people should have more options—the option to work, marry, own property, sign contracts, start businesses, make decisions about health care and abortions, live on their own—every right, privilege, or responsibility an adult has. I advocate a competency-based system that focuses on the abilities of the individual. For some it will mean more time in school combined with work, for others it will mean that at age 13 or 15 they can set up an Internet business. Others will enter the workforce and become some sort of apprentice. The exploitative factories are long gone; competent young people deserve the chance to compete where it counts, and many will surprise us.
It’s a simple matter to develop competency tests to determine what rights a young person should be given, just as we now have competency tests for driving. When you offer significant rights for passing such a test, it’s highly motivating; people who can’t pass a high-school history test will never give up trying to pass the written test at the DMV, and they’ll virtually always succeed.
…they already have too much freedom—they are free to spend, to be disrespectful, to stay out all night, to have sex and take drugs. But they’re not free to join the adult world, and that’s what needs to change.
He argues that our current education system was designed to facilitate the movement of young people into factory jobs (think of the transition from agriculture to manufacturing). Today’s economy changes too quickly to justify “front-loading” one’s formal education into the ages prior to 22.
Epstein may be somewhat wrong, or even mostly wrong. But I am glad to see his ideas out there.
From a libertarian perspective, I think there is more to be worried about than the problem of teenagers not being allowed to be adults. I worry about adults not being allowed to be adults. Teenagers are the canaries in the coal mine, so to speak.