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Modern Ageism


The problem with our society is that ageism has been institutionalized. It is what makes personal assaults like this on students socially acceptable, since we aren’t really full people, are we? It limits out freedom of speech, since we can’t be expected to say anything intelligent. It lets us get away with ‘murder’ because we can’t be considered fully responsible for our actions. I think it is reasonable for certain restrictions to be placed upon people based upon their scientifically proven development and maturity. Unfortunately, the law and society draws a hard line in the sand, universally, which is based upon fear instead of fact.

Most neurologists agree: the brain is not fully developed during adolescent years. Adolescents, and to a greater extent children, lack full intelligence and emotional maturity. However, most research puts the brain peak at sometime in an individual’s 20s–not at 18. I do not disagree with this, but the problem is that this science is not reflected in society and the law. This research yields two conclusions:

  1. The brain does not develop at an equal speed for everyone. Some people achieve intellectual or emotional maturity well before their 18th birthday. Others never do.
  2. The age of 18 is not a critical milestone in the average individual’s brain development.

Unfortunately, these points are not taken into account within the frameworks of the law and society. In the eyes of the law (and thus society), everyone is an adult when they reach the age of 18 (though they can lose that status if proven to be severely deficient). If the age of majority isn’t based upon science, then it must be based on tradition, right? Wrong. Before the 26th amendment, the age was at 21 (which is still reflected in drinking laws). In other societies, it has been lower (around 13 or 14). Therefore, tradition doesn’t play a large role in why the line should be drawn at 18.

Put simply, the line is drawn at 18 because of fear. Society is always afraid of the next generation. Some day, we will be taking your jobs and stealing the upper hand. Naturally, those with the power (read: voters and politicians), would like to keep that age as high as possible so as to delay their eventual loss of power. The problem with this approach is that it ignores the merits of an individual in favor of a simple rule. (On another note, the powers are perfectly happy to use labor lower than 18 both domestically and in the military.)

Obviously, I am not going to change society with a blog post. However, that’s not my goal: my goal is to get you to stop standing behind the paltry defense of irrational laws which legislate the value of vast swaths of people. Instead, I ask you to judge people based upon their individual merits, intelligence, and maturity.

Of course, a natural argument against that is that you as a teacher are entrusted with the well-being of your students. While that is true, it does not apply online since almost none of your students are online.

To me, I think the contract between a teacher and student is a sacred one. (By association, the parents as well) In exchange for the teacher’s time and expertise, the student offers himself to be open to learning from that pool of knowledge, and trusts the teacher. Coming with this, the student (and his parents), expect that the teacher will always have the best interests of the student at heart. Where the teacher loses sight of that, even if he thinks he is doing the “right” think, for whatever reason, that contract has been breached and the teacher is at fault. Keating broke this pact, and dire consequences ensued.

Most importantly, this contract supersedes age: even if your student is 52, it still applies. However, when not engaged in a student/teacher relationship, simply asses an individual based upon their personal merits. No matter how hard it may be, try to put assumptions based upon age aside and see a person for who they are.

Naturally, this brings up some moral and legal conflicts which Christian summarizes quite well:

Intellect aside, our ability to engage in serious/sincere conversations inside our classrooms and inside the blogosphere demands that we accept the roles of a) legal and b) moral implications. With regards to a “student” that is under the age of 18, the courts and society both demand that adults must play by different roles than children (using the legal sense of the word, not a pejorative sense of it). Arthus — intelligence, computer/coding/digital knowledge and blogging ‘personality’ aside — you desire for ‘peer’ status with legally adult bloggers (etc) holds ground in terms of common decency, respect, and our collective interest in ‘learning’. On the other hand, once you get into moral and legal realms, it begins to fade in terms of legitimacy (not because you or someone else lacks ability, but because society and the courts deem it as such). Because of that, any adult who acts in a formal or informal way in the blogosphere must still behave in a way that a child is not required to. Consider your ability to make mistakes when it comes to blogger discourse/debate to be more protected than that of an adult who is working beside you or in opposition to you.

As discussed, society and the law do create higher standards for “adults” than for teens. The way that society and the law can be completely avoided is simple: ignore them. Rather, act in such a manner that society and the law would never have reason to question you. To do so, treat everyone (online) as though they were morally and legally a child. What that means:

  1. No cyber-bullying.
  2. No creepy stuff. You know that guy. Don’t be him.
  3. Respect people’s boundaries. If someone chooses to remain anonymous, leave it at that, whether they are an adult or a teen.

If you hold yourself and others (including youth) to a high standard, then society has no reason to question you and your motives. Achieve equality through raising the standards for everyone. (To be clear, the student/teacher relationship will always supersede this when someone is actually your student.)

Just as I expect adults to follow these guidelines, I hold myself to them as well. If students want to be treated equally, we must accept equal responsibility.

  1. Photo by Elephi Pelephi on Flickr
  2. Photo by Mikey G Ottawa on Flickr
  3. Photo by Thorne Enterprises on Flickr

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5 Responses to “Modern Ageism”

  1. 1 aschmitz

    (I was a bit confused when reading the first (unattributed, as of now) quote, as I wasn’t sure where I’d read it before. Turns out it showed up on this blog before.)

    Arthus, I understand your argument that students may be of any age (15 or 52), but I see that as at least a bit in conflict with your statement that, “while [teachers being entrusted with well-being of students] is true, it does not apply online since almost none of your students are online.” If you’re saying that students (of any age) should be treated equally on the Internet, I don’t know that it makes sense to then imply that that should happen anyway because few are actually online: either the argument has merit, or it doesn’t. (For what it’s worth, I think the interaction and such are important, though it is important to evaluate individuals.. individually, and they may not all be equal.)

  2. 2 Darren Draper

    For the record, I didn’t find Belshaw’s post to be socially acceptable.

    Quite to the contrary.

    In truth, I found it to be done in incredibly poor taste given the timing and frame of reference taken.

    Related to this post, you may have forgotten that not all participants in our international classroom are governed by statutes set forth by the 26th Amendment. To Belshaw himself, for example, the Constitution of the United States may very well mean nothing - or worse, it may represent a time when one country rebelled against his own. Furthermore, drinking age, driving privileges and other rites of passage are varying and differ by culture and geographic location.

    These issues are complex, to be sure. I just hope we can all stick together long enough to learn while the learning is good.

  3. 3 arthus

    @ashmitz: Sorry about the confusion with the quote.

    I think you are misunderstanding my statements. The student/teacher relationship can apply to any student (regardless of age) with their teacher, including online. In fact, it does apply if the student online is actually a student of the teacher. I am not talking about students generally in this case, I am talking about the specific relationship between a student and his or her teacher.

    The other component is approaching all people (who are not a teacher’s specific students) without assumptions, regardless of age.

    @Darren: If it wasn’t socially acceptable, he wouldn’t have had majority support of his issue.

    I personally found it to be done in poor taste, but it still is “acceptable.”

    Though the specific laws may be related to only the US, the ideas are mostly universal. Sure, they might have crazy drinking laws over in Scotland: but there is still a line drawn in the sand where one reaches the adult.

  4. 4 Darren Draper


    Just because some are vociferous doesn’t mean they are right - and it definitely doesn’t mean that their views represent the majority.

    Don’t forget your roots: the silent majority is often silent, and right.

  5. 5 arthus

    @Darren: True, but unfortunately I think these views do represent the majority.

    Otherwise, teens wouldn’t be discriminated against on a daily basis–both legally and informally.