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What’s age got to do with it?

It seems rather a lot, given the huge reaction the Dutch authorities have to prevent 13-year old Laura Dekker‘s quest to sail solo around the world.

We all know that kids mature at different ages. Some are high achieving while still very young. A good example is 15-year old tennis player Laura Robson, winner of junior Wimbledon as age 14, runner of the Junior Australian championship at age 15. Others take longer, a lot longer in some cases, to figure out who they are and what they would like to achieve. Some drift through life without ever achieving anything momentous at all.

Are there limits as to what someone should or could achieve by a particular age? Apparently we are at our physical peak in our mid-20s. Thus, is mid-teens a good age to start making a name for oneself in ones chosen sport? Singers say their voices peak in the 40s, and they are often well into their 20s before they feel their voice is anyway worthy of a top stage. Are there / should there be rules for different domains of expertise?

Taking a different angle, it seems to me that society has very strong views on teens excelling in an adult world. We seem to have this idea that teens need to be protected from much of the negative aspects of the world. In many cases, that seems logical. After all, the average teen has little world experience and many have not the required cognitive and social sophistication to cope with life’s more unusual obstacles.  In the Western we world have evolved teenagehood as a protected space where parents gradually let go of their offspring, hoping they are moving fast enough so that the youngster develops sufficient maturity and coping skills but not so so slowly the teen feels stifled.

The age of 18 is considered adulthood and our young folks are considered capable of getting on in the adult world on their 18th birthday. Why age 18? I’m sure we all know or have known 18-year olds who are well able to make their way in the world and others who have some or a lot more learning to do.  Some teens amaze and humble us with their apparent maturity.  Some grapple badly with the horrors of sexting, cyber-bullying, the leaving cert points race, etc, others are able to take these in their stride.  Perhaps, we should put more effort into researching why there is such a gap between these 2 groups.

Having said all that, what is your view on Laura Dekker’s quest to sail the world solo as a 13 year old? If BBC’s Have-your-say is anything to go by, it seems we have strong opinions indeed. Some of the comments (from over 1000) I found interesting are as follows –

  • What on earth are her parents thinking of
  • Stepping outside the accepted social structure because you have become independent faster than your peers, you are regarded as odd and in this instance, are taken into state custody. ae we getting a little mixed up?
  • I hope the girl sues them when she is older for denying her this opportunity
  • Perhaps if Laura survives this trip and one day comes to her senses, she may decide to sue her parents for denying her the opportunity to mix with other teenagers at a crucial age, as well as missing so much education that she cannot go to university or get a job
  • Why is there such a rush to force adulthood onto children?
  • a child of 13 is not sufficiently developed mentally, physically or psychologically to undertake such an endeavor entirely alone
  • 13 year old boy can be a father, 15 year old lady can be a mother? But they are stopped form sailing around the world
  • Nanny should allow her to do the trip if she is fit!
  • Sending a 13-yr old girl to sea on solo is tantamount to a death sentence.
  • maturity, experience,knowledge,support systems,mental abilities in stressful times, physical abilities when stressed or challenged, emotional abilities and capabilities to cope.All these factors need consideration and not just age.
  • The government has too much say in what is absolutely none of their business.
  • My dad had to leave school at 14 to earn a crust as the family was short of cash, where were the do-gooders then.
  • what sort of psychological impact will stopping her do this create, resentment and anger for sure, rather than the feeling of achievement that allowing her to attempt it will create even if she failed.
  • What next? Child wants to dye hair red and get nose pierced, so gets taken into state care… Child wants to cook own dinner on hot stove, so gets taken into state care… If the state no longer agrees with one parenting methodology, does that mean the children will be taken into care???
  • Does anyone really sail solo apart from being the only one in the boat. There is always someone following and state-of-the-art communications.
  • Each case is different. Some children are mature beyond their age whereas some are immature for their age.
  • Is there any activity more utterly pointless than sailing solo around the world?
  • Children need to experience life in all it’s facets and if one is younger than the norm so be it, that is not an excuse for heavy-handed authorities to step in
  • At 13 she should be at home studying algebra, not sailing the high seas.
  • She is 13 years old. Is her life going to be so utterly ruined and violated if she has to wait until she finishes school?

It seems there are as many viewpoints as there are commentators. Are they all valid? Do you agree with them?  Could you have done this trip when you were 13? Were you born on a boat, did you spend the first 4 years of your life sailing, did you sail solo at age 6, spend the last 3 years preparing for a round-the-world sail, already have crossed the North Sea solo?

As a sailor, Laura is clearly not a typical 13 year old. She is far beyond that.


The old vs. the new

Back in the olden days of the last century when I was an undergraduate the lecturing process was very specific. 

  • The lecturer talked.
  • The students listened, processed, and wrote down as much of it as they could.
  • The lecturer departed.

There were smaller group tutorials where students had the opportunity to discuss and interact with the lecturer and each other.

Where in these two formats did the learning actually take place?

Now that I’m on the other side of the desk, I find that the lecturing process is not much different. However, being on the other side of the desk, literally facing the students I see a different perspective.

Take the large group lecture format, for example. The larger the group of students, the more variety there is in student attention spans, cognitive ability, English language ability, general behaviour, motivation and interest. The larger the group the harder it is to cater for such variety. Here’s a typical scenario – lecturer is explaining a concept –

  • A group of students in corner A pick up the meaning very quickly and understand the concept
  • A group of students in corner B have absolutely no idea of what has been said and are looking blankly at the lecturer
  • A group of students in corner C are having linguistic difficulties and have turned to the student in front of / beside / behind them to ask for a translation in their native language. They now have disturbed all students in that zone.
  • A group of students in corner D have ‘kind of’ understood the concept but  really need it explained again to be sure

What does the lecturer do – re-explain the concept. Result –

  • Students in corner A are quickly bored and begin talking among themselves
  • Students in corner B still haven’t understood the concept
  • Students in corner C are still typically linguistically challenged to some extent, even if the lecturer’s re-explanation is slow in delivery and cuts the jargon
  • Students in corner D now likely understand the concept

What does the lecturer do – move on, not re-explaining the concept. Result –

  • Students in corner A remain tuned in, following the lecture
  • Students in corner B still haven’t understood the concept
  • Students in corner C still haven’t understood the concept
  • Students in corner D still likely haven’t understood the concept

Agreed, the above is generalised and simplified but it begs the question. What’s the point of the traditional lecture? Would the students not be better off with a video recording of the lecturer giving the class? They can re-play it again and again as and when they want. Possible result – students in all corners understand the concepts being presented.

This is something that I discuss on a regular basis with both students and fellow colleagues. All are agreed that the videoed lecture would facilitate students being able to pace themselves. Modern technology means the process should be relatively easy to do. However, most are agreed that the discipline of physically coming to class carries a lot of weight. If students could delay attending their lecture, very allowable in the video version, would they do so indefinitely?

Whoever said lecturing is easy?

Lefties not so hot

A new survey from Bristol University tells us that left-handed pupils fare less well in tests than do their right-handed classmates. The tests in question, which may be beside the point, are the British national curriculum tests (SATS) and IQ tests. They surveyed over 10,000 children – enough to have some significance.

On behalf of lefties the world over can I say hang on here a minute!!

What about the “Lefties think faster” idea. Lefties have faster connections between the left and right hand hemispheres of the brain producing faster response times, and so can use both side of the brain more efficiently that righties. Makes logical sense.

Yet, its a righties world. Ask any lefty if they can scissor Christmas wrapping paper in a straight line and without jagging the paper? Tin cans have to be opened backwards. We can have some wonderful (oh, alright, dangerous) fun with power tools. But dont get me started on the “let me write the invites, you look so awkward with the left hand”.

Apparently, every one in 12 of us is left-handed.  This includes some impressive figures down the ages – Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Ludwig van Beethoven, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Benjamin Franklin, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein,  Charlie Chaplin, John McEnroe, Martina Natratilova. They seem to have done alright, no slow thinkers there.

Ned Flanders - the most famous lefty of them all

Ned Flanders - the most famous lefty of them all

Society has become more accepting of us. Time was when to be left-handed was a condtion to be fearer and a habit to be broken. Go back a generation and primary school teachers had the job of forcing lefties to write with their right hand. Now, lefties are allowed the full expression of their leftiness.

But its not all roses. The vast majority of dyslexics are left-handed (I know I have seen stats on that somewhere reputable).  Left-handed females are paid significantly less than right handed females, but left handed males are up there on a par with their righty brothers. Given that females are paid less than males to start with, that’s not good at all.

Us lefties, particularly lefty females, need to club together and defeat this inequality. C’mon now Sisters!!