Tuesday, June 27, 2006


The adage "like a kid at heart" may be truer than we think, since new research is showing that grown-ups are more immature than ever. Specifically, it seems a growing number of people are retaining the behaviors and attitudes associated with youth. As a consequence, many older people simply never achieve mental adulthood, according to a leading expert on evolutionary psychiatry.

Among scientists, the phenomenon is called psychological neoteny. The theory's creator is Bruce Charlton, a professor in the School of Biology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, England. He also serves as the editor-in-chief of Medical Hypotheses, which will feature a paper outlining his theory in an upcoming issue.

Charlton explained to Discovery News that humans have an inherent attraction to physical youth, since it can be a sign of fertility, health and vitality. In the mid-20th century, however, another force kicked in, due to increasing need for individuals to change jobs, learn new skills, move to new places and make new friends. A "child-like flexibility of attitudes, behaviors and knowledge" is probably adaptive to the increased instability of the modern world, Charlton believes. Formal education now extends well past physical maturity, leaving students with minds that are, he said, "unfinished." "The psychological neoteny effect of formal education is an accidental by-product - the main role of education is to increase general, abstract intelligence and prepare for economic activity," he explained. "But formal education requires a child-like stance of receptivity to new learning, and cognitive flexibility." "When formal education continues into the early twenties," he continued, "it probably, to an extent, counteracts the attainment of psychological maturity, which would otherwise occur at about this age."

Charlton pointed out that past cultures often marked the advent of adulthood with initiation ceremonies. While the human mind responds to new information over the course of any individual's lifetime, Charlton argues that past physical environments were more stable and allowed for a state of psychological maturity. In hunter-gatherer societies, that maturity was probably achieved during a person's late teens or early twenties, he said. "By contrast, many modern adults fail to attain this maturity, and such failure is common and indeed characteristic of highly educated and, on the whole, effective and socially valuable people," he said. "People such as academics, teachers, scientists and many other professionals are often strikingly immature outside of their strictly specialist competence in the sense of being unpredictable, unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact."

Charlton added that since modern cultures now favor cognitive flexibility, "immature" people tend to thrive and succeed, and have set the tone not only for contemporary life, but also for the future, when it is possible our genes may even change as a result of the psychological shift. The faults of youth are retained along with the virtues, he believes. These include short attention span, sensation and novelty-seeking, short cycles of arbitrary fashion and a sense of cultural shallowness. At least "youthfulness is no longer restricted to youth," he said, due to overall improvements in food and healthcare, along with cosmetic technologies.

David Brooks, a social commentator and an op-ed columnist at The New York Times, has documented a somewhat related phenomenon concerning the current blurring of "the bourgeois world of capitalism and the bohemian counterculture," which Charlton believes is a version of psychological neoteny. Brooks believes such individuals have lost the wisdom and maturity of their bourgeois predecessors due to more emphasis placed on expertise, flexibility and vitality.



Boys and girls are no more likely to achieve better results when they are educated in separate schools than together, according to a study of the way children learn. Girls' schools consistently top the league tables at GCSE and A level - which the author suggests is attributable to selection and background, rather than gender.

Advocates of single-sex schooling argue that children achieve more academically when they are taught separately. After reviewing a decade of international and national research, Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, says that the evidence does not support this view. "On performance, there is no evidence that girls will get better results in a single sex than a co-educational school. The same is true for boys," Professor Smithers said. "The girls' schools feature highly in the league tables because they are highly selective, their children come from particular social backgrounds and they have excellent teachers."

The number of single-sex state schools has declined from 2,500 in the 1960s to 400 today. In the independent sector, 130 single-sex schools for boys and girls have merged, turned co-educational or closed. Many single-sex comprehensives perform relatively poorly overall. "If you look at GCSEs and at A-level results, girls overall do better than boys," Professor Smithers said. So, on average, a girls' school would achieve better results than a boys' school. "However, if you have a highly selective boys' school, they will do better than most girls," said Professor Smithers, who this week presents his findings at Wellington College, which recently turned co- educational.

Last year 23.9 per cent of girls were awarded A grades at A level, compared with 21.5 per cent of boys. In most subjects, with the exception of English and modern languages, girls outperformed boys. Professor Smithers, who sent both his daughters to a single-sex school, is keen not to diminish the schools' achievements but insists that their emphasis on gender is misplaced. He cites, for example, the claim that girls in single-sex schools are more likely to study science than if they study alongside boys. According to his research, this is simply not the case. The proportion of girls taking physics went up between 1960 and 1985 - at a time that single-sex schools in Britain were disappearing. The trend, he says, appears to have been caused by the new mixed comprehensives offering girls more opportunities to take physics. "The pattern emerging was that girls were at least as likely or more to study physics in co-ed schools, possibly because of the critical mass of students, the facilities and the teachers," said Professor Smithers. This was particularly the case among the brightest girls.

His research will be unwelcome to the top boys-only public schools such as Eton, Harrow and Radley - as well as to the country's 203 feepaying girls' schools. They point out that last year girls and boys in single-sex independent schools achieved 10 per cent more A grades at A level than those at independent co-educational schools. Brenda Despontin, president of the Girls' Schools Association and head of Haberdashers' Monmouth School for Girls, says that single-sex schooling offers more than academic achievement. "Children have the opportunity to develop at their own pace, to grow in confidence and not worry about others around them," she said. "They gain much more than As at A level - they come out aiming high and confident of taking the world by storm."

Last year a study by academics at Cambridge University suggested that single-sex classes within co-educational schools could be the key to helping adolescent boys and girls succeed. Schools that taught boys and girls certain subjects separately - to address differentials in achievement - found that both became more confident and grades climbed rapidly. This "parallel education" is favoured by Steve Biddulph, the Australian educational psychologist and author of Raising Boys. After 20 years of research he believed that there was strong evidence to suggest that boys and girls aged between 12 to 15 did not learn well together. "The reasons are developmental - there is an almost two-year difference in the onset of puberty, so girls leap ahead physically and emotionally," Mr Biddulph said. Among his suggestions were that although boys and girls should mix in the playground, in their teens they should learn separately until they reached the age of 16.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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