Numbers are everywhere. We discussed these during the elections. There was post after post on poll numbers and their validity. While we are skeptical of poll numbers we tend to accept other numbers, like studies on social trends, as valid. We need to be more skeptical of those as well. And the first question we need to ask when we hear a number presented in an argument is, "Is that a big number?" Take Newt Gingrich's recent commentary in Business Week.
He has written in Business Week that adolescence "is a 19th century invention of the middle class to keep kids out of sweatshops" and that it is time to make them do real work. His article has some suspect statistics.
"The proof is all around us: 19% of eighth graders, 36% of tenth graders, and 47% of twelfth graders say they have used illegal drugs, according to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan. One of every four girls has a sexually transmitted disease, suggests a recent study for the Centers for Disease Control."
Firstly, my niece is 16 and she has more the 4 friends, none of whom I am sure carry an STD. I think he is misrepresenting these numbers, or he is presenting them in a way that makes them seem larger than they really are. Here is what I found at the Center for Disease Control regarding teen drug use. You be the judge. To me, the actual numbers are bit more complicated than he is presenting here. It really depends on how you count things, how you categorize things.
Then I went looking for info on STDS and teens. I found the March 2008 paper to which Mr. G refers. It does say that 1 in 4 young women have one of the 4 most prevalent STDs. That is different from "an STD". When you count four STDs vs. just one, then you will have higher numbers. If you count 10 STDs, then the number will be higher than it is with just 4. And if you throw boys into the mix, then hummm . . . how high is that? True, sexual activity among teens is a serious matter. But if you take Newt's "1 and 4" number, that translates that into 26%, or about 3 million women between the ages of 14-19. That is high, but the "1 in 4 number" makes it seem much higher.
Secondly, I don't think it is wise to compare today's youth to Ben Franklin and John Quincy Adams. That strikes me as a bit ridiculous. People also died at the age of 40 in those days and so, they started their productive and reproductive life early. So if Newt is in favor of ending adolescence, then the logical policy option would be to allow 14 year olds to vote, get married, and join the military, buy cigarettes and alcohol, and carry valid driver's licenses. We'd have to lower the age limits on running for public office.
Thirdly, I would point out to Mr. G that in the 19th century, children as young as 4were being killed in textile mills and coal mines. So he's right, people wanted to protect their children. But I'd question if it was the middle class. He is implying that the middle class in the 19th century was so poor that its children had to go to sweatshops to help put food on the table. And by implying we should go back to that type of situation, he is setting bar very low for what should count as the Middle Class. That tells you how the Republicans define the Middle Class. Does Newt really support going back to the industrial revolution? Does he really think that a defining trait of the middle class should be that we send children to work? Yikes!
You want to help youths? Bring back trade school and apprenticeships. Make trade school an option to public high school students. Fund schools so that they can revive their programs in auto mechanics, computer programming, engineering, resource management, and communications- the trades we need in this century! Teach youth that what they need to "be when they grow up" is "good, happy, hardworking, thinking people. That is first and foremost. Second, they need to find something useful that will earn them a living. But they also need to be flexible, and to know that if they aren't happy in their jobs, they can change. They can learn something new and find new, constructive ways to earn their living. In the 19th century you took on work, and were stuck at it for life. We have options today that allow is the wonderful opportunity to change our work as we change and grow. I studied political science. I loved it. But now, I am interested in computer science and I can go to junior college and learn about that. What a great thing!
Furthermore, if young people are to give up adolescence, if they are to be given a stake in this society, then old people ought to be made to retire and make room for the new generation of leaders.