David “Damn the torpedoes” Farragut—the first full admiral of the United States Navy—joined the service in 1810. He was 9 years old. In the War of 1812, Farragut was given his first command; captained a British whaling ship. He was 12. There might have been some nepotism involved—Farragut’s father was a Navy man. However, the incidence of young people doing difficult, important things was taken for granted at the time.
Now, however, 16 year old Abby Sunderland is attempting sail around the world on her own. Her brother Zac finished his solo sail around the world last year. He was 17. Abby encountered the ferocity of nature and her boat was battered and disabled in the Indian Ocean. But she was competent enough to keep her wits about her, fix what she could, send out distress signals, live to write the blog entry and, some day, go on the Today show. Some call this “child endangerment.”
Times have changed. And I do not think it has been for the better.
When you stop to think about, all of this has happened in the blink of an eye. Let’s call it an iLash. Modern humans are thought to have appeared from 100,000 to 200,000 years ago; started farming about 12,000 years ago—formed “Civilization” shortly afterwards; sported leather footwear 5,000 years ago; codified the Judeo-Christian Ethic 2,000 years ago; “discovered the new world” 500 years ago; founded the great Republic of the United States of America a little over 200 years ago.
Modern humans had mostly cared for their young in the same way. There is always a period of helplessness and dependence. And it was that way for our ancestors, but the child quickly became an important member of the family and tribal unit. In tribal societies today, you see that boys and girls are initiated into adulthood at the beginning of puberty. There is instruction. There is always instruction. There are things we must learn in order to survive. However, the things we are meant to learn in order to survive has changed dramatically for modern humans—even in the last 100 years. The Matrix has us.
Seriously, the way we use machines has changed us in unimaginable, unintended ways—extended infantilization, for example. Is it all that unintended? Wilhelm Wundt founded one of the first psychological research laboratories at the University of Leipzig, Germany, and is credited as the “father of experimental psychology.” To me, experimental psychology can be defined as people with a lot of time and money on their hands thinking of ways to get rats and dogs to do what they want. Many of their best techniques are behavioral and, amazingly, apply easily to humans. The wealthiest Industrialists in history supplied the seed money.
In 1904, Ivan Pavlov received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on animal digestion. However, Pavlov is most famous for his contributions to classical conditioning. Pavlov’s dogs are possibly not conceivable without the groundwork of Wundt. That same year, G. Stanley Hall—the first president of the American Psychological Association—published his treatise on “Adolescence.” Before that, it would have been a nonsense term. Hall, however, who trained under Wundt, popularized the concept of teen “Storm and Stress” which he borrowed from the German “Sturm und Drang.” Hall is called the “father of Adolescence” which, I guess, makes Wundt the “grand-father of Adolescence” with Hall as the “brother of experimental psychology,” or something like that.
Hall, as much as anyone, is responsible for the apotheosis of childhood. He said, “The guardians of the young should…feel profoundly that childhood, as it comes fresh from the hand of God, is not corrupt, but illustrates the survival of the most consummate thing in the world.” He loved the little buggers and knowing how much they stressed bummed him out too. “We must overcome the fetishism of the alphabet, of the multiplication table, of grammars, of scales, and of bibliolatry,” he said. “There are many who ought not to be educated, and who would be better in mind, body, and morals if they knew no school.”
That was a death knell for a classical education, at least for the population at large. What was left was socialization. The idea of school as a socialization tool was popularized by one of Hall’s disciples, John Dewey. Dewey and Hall are just two of the many names and faces in education with a strong Industrial Behavioral background. Another of Wundt’s assistants, James McKeen Cattell, founded The Psychological Review and trained 344 doctoral candidates. The founders of the psychology labs at Princeton and Wesleyan, the education department at the University of Chicago, and the head of the Columbia Teachers College were all descended from Wundt.
Industrial Behaviorism is what our educational system is founded on and, in my armchair expert opinion, is a pile of shit. The socialization goal is one of how to act, not how to be. It has lead to a tyranny of lowered expectations which has crippled generations of children, particularly the poor. Abby Sunderland is lucky for her relative affluence. Her experiences will shape and define her entire life. She will be much less likely to wilt under adversity and cannot be defined by the school she attended or her test scores.
The more that “adolescents” and families make opportunities to do amazing, difficult, important things—even if just for the strengthening and betterment of the individual—the better off they will be. It is time to throw off the shackles of the expectations of what the schools, so-called experts, and test scores say about kids.
What are Abby’s test scores? Does it matter? Test scores tell us nothing about the fact that Abby braved the ocean blue, met its wrath, and lived to tell the tale. Scores only tell us where the Industrial Behaviorists—so-called experts—think she should be. As far as I am aware, none indicate an aptitude for sailing solo around the world.
Bravo to Abby Sunderland for taking her own test. She passes.