Dangerous Adolescents, Model Adolescents. Shaping the Role and Promise of Education
reviewed by Jennifer Stanley - 2003
Title: Dangerous Adolescents, Model Adolescents. Shaping the Role and Promise of Education
Author(s): Roger J. R. Levesque
Publisher: Kogan Page , London
ISBN: 0306467674, Pages: 266, Year: 2002
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The stated purpose of this book was to develop an appreciation of the needs of adolescents, and to determine how teachers, parents and the community can respond more appropriately to them. Levesque approaches the topic of adolescents; their development and education from the perspective of the role law and social sciences can play in ensuring the best outcomes for adolescents. The topic of adolescence and their development is of concern worldwide,and this book adds yet a further dimension to the debate on how best to create an environment that is responsive to their academic, social, and developmental needs. However, this book is sure to stimulate discussion amongst professionals from the legal and teaching fraternities about the purpose of education, how to achieve a high quality, accountable education system that will effectively meet the needs of adolescents, and who should be responsible for developing this.
The book focuses on the United States and therefore concentrates on US law, mandates, and schooling systems. In many of the chapters Levesque cites legal cases as examples of how the law has impacted or found deficiencies in the education systems.
In chapter one, Levesque claims that while schools are charged with the task of producing “productive citizens, capable of contributing to a democratic society,” they are expected to do what no other institution is required to do, in an environment of diminishing support for the public education system (p. 5). However, he states that schools are not responding to the needs of adolescents, and, in fact, that students do not particularly like school. There is much literature on the need for changes in schooling to meet the needs of adolescents, and the need for student voice in this reform (for example, Trent and Slade, 2001; Smyth, Hattam, Cannon, Edwards, Wilson and Wurst, 2000), and many solutions as to how to address those needs, and improve education systems (e.g. Langford and Cleary, 1995). Levesque briefly puts forward a range of arguments to show how the public education system in the US is failing to respond to the needs of adolescents.
Chapter two is devoted to law and the development of public education in the US. An interesting perspective about how education systems have developed, been influenced by legal mandate and economic forces, and how provision has been made for adolescent development within those systems, is presented. The author also provides an overview of the development of the American education system, beginning with the colonial period in the 1630’s, through the post revolutionary “common school period,” the progressive period to the cosmopolitan period. He traces the formal recognition of adolescence to the Colonial period of the late 1700’s and early 1800’s where the traditional sources of social order changed.
In chapter 3, “Dangerous Adolescents,” he states “… juvenile offences in schools and the failure of schools to respond to offences committed outside of school rank among the most important social issues facing adolescents’ schooling and society” (p. 65).
Levesque suggests that it is necessary for schools to address not only overt violence but more covert forms of violence as well, such as harassing behaviours and the way in which staff discipline students. An overview of the indicators of adolescents who could be a greater risk of offending, how adolescent violence is dealt with in many schools, how school schools may contribute to this undesirable behaviour and examples of appropriate programs for minimizing violence is presented.
Chapter 4 focuses on “Model Adolescents” and claims the main transitions in the adolescent period are changes to cognitive ability, the impact of peer relationships, physical changes, relationships with authority figures and the need for ‘voice’ in institutions outside of the family (pp. 115 – 121). He claims that effective programs for adolescents are characterized by a number of factors, which:
Levesque reviews the tensions between what may be desirable from the viewpoint of effective education, and what may conflict with a constitutional or legal opinion.
Chapter 5 is titled “Thriving Adolescents” and focuses on conditions conducive to this positive outcome for adolescents. He suggests there is a need to:
He states, “Although some progress has been made to address adolescents’ needs, the legal system pervasively fails to structure schools as environments that would enhance the vast majority of adolescents’ mental health” (p. 196).
However, by chapter 6 it appears that the legal voice is overtaking the teacher voice, adolescent voice, and parent voice. Having stated in earlier chapters the need for balance between teachers, parents, and community, this appears no longer to be recognized. For example, Levesque claims that the laws can assist schools in understanding and acting in response to the need for an optimum adolescent developmental environment. It is stated that this can be achieved through the use of legal mandates to guide educational policies, educational experiences and the development of appropriate environments. Further, legal mandates can guide the development and implementation of policies regarding safe school environments, responses to inappropriate behaviour, and they can ensure that curriculum addresses pro social behaviour and that school administrators and teachers respond more appropriately to the psychological needs of adolescents.
Levesque states that while there are clear policies regarding sexual harassment and discipline, there is a lack of clear policy to guide the social development and the educational needs of adolescents and the creation of healthy school environments (p. 204). He purports that the majority of states do not require codes to be adopted by schools and where there is a requirement to develop standards, there is little assistance about how to develop them and few resources to implement them and that schools are not held accountable for failing programs. It is the lack of clear policy direction and accountability that limits the quality of programs for adolescents. He states “Given the current failures, the most reasonable alternative would be to have the legal system foster environments supportive of school accountability” (p. 207).
Levesque states that student voice must be heard in the development of policies affecting them, however, in his proposals there is an absence of teacher voice. Perhaps some thought should be given to teacher educators and professional development programs for teachers and schools as systems developing a greater understanding of the needs of adolescents and in working together to ensure those needs are met. The work of the teaching profession appears completely overlooked in the quest to embed legally binding mandates into the education system. Where systems are enforced, and there is no ownership by those who have to implement them they are generally either paid lip service, or ignored. There is a need to be accountable in reporting to communities and in providing effective and relevant curriculum for adolescents in a safe environment. However, this is more likely to succeed where communities work together in a genuine attempt to achieve quality education systems which are committed to continuous improvement and therefore, meeting the needs of those involved in them.
Langford, D and Cleary, B. (1995). Orchestrating learning with quality. USA: ASQ.
Smyth, J., Hattam, R., Cannon, J., Edwards, J., Wilson, N., and Wurst, S. (2000). Listen to me. I’m leaving. South Australia: Flinders University for the Study of Teaching.
Trent, F. and Slade, M. (2001). Declining rates of achievement and retention. The perceptions of adolescent males. Australia: Commonwealth of Australia.