Research and Reports
"Dramatic, extraordinary" changes occur in the thought processes of young people between early and late adolescence, according to a study completed recently by a University of Michigan psychologist.
The study, conducted by Joseph B. Adelson, involved 780 young people, ranging in age from 11 to 18, from the U.S., West Germany, and Great Britain. The research addressed two basic questions: How do youngsters at the onset of adolescence think about social and humanistic issues, and how does this thinking change as they get older?
Interviewers presented the young people with a hypothetical situation in which 1,000 people had left their country to form a new society on an island in the Pacific. Within that framework, the researchers raised many questions about issues of politics, social structure, and morality.
They found that cultural differences were evident between those from different countries. Students of the same age and nationality, regardless of their race or sex, showed no significant differences in how they thought about these issues.
But the differences in the thought process between older and younger children were striking, Mr. Adelson reports.
One of the most significant changes, he said, is the shift from thinking almost entirely in the concrete to thinking in the abstract. "It is not until age 15 or 18 that most children can deal with social and humanistic issues in the abstract and know what they are talking about," he said.
For example, at age 10 or 11, few children grasp the concept of a social collectivity, such as "society" or "government." Early adolescents also have a weak conception of human motivation, according to the study, and believe that criminals commit crimes because they are wicked.
Young adolescents see government as a means of suppressing wayward behavior, by harsh means if necessary. As they grow older, they change their views and see laws as benevolent and protective.
The research findings have a message for teachers, Mr. Adelman says, who should be aware of their students' difficulties in abstract reasoning.
"One of the main things we learned," he advises, "is not to assume youngsters at age 11 or 13 are talking about the same things you are. They may use the right words, but on close questioning you find that they have only a vague idea about what the words mean."
The report on the research is entitled The Growth of Thought in Early Adolescent Reasoning.
Boston school officials have appealed U.S. District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr.'s rejection of a proposal that would alter the grade structure of one of the city's elementary schools while adding a magnet program for the performing arts.
Under the school department's proposal, Tobin Elementary School, which currently serves kindergarten through fifth-grade students, would be expanded to include grades 6 through 8, according to Ian Forman, spokesman for the department. He said the project would test the feasibility of combining the elementary grades with middle grades in a neighborhood that does not have a nearby middle school.
Judge Garrity's decision against the proposal was based in part on the court's findings, in the 1972 desegregation case, that the city's grade structure had been used to segregate the school system, Mr. Forman explained.
But also at issue, Mr. Forman said, was the school's location, which Judge Garrity considered inappropriate for a magnet program. More than 35 percent of the elementary school students are black and 11.6 percent are white, he said, while nearly 53 percent are from other racial backgrounds, primarily Hispanic.
Judge Garrity has not responded to the additional information provided by city school officials, but indicated last week that he would reconsider the decision, Mr. Forman said.
The Prince George's County, Md., school board was back in U.S. District Court last week to answer charges that court-ordered desegregation has been unsuccessful in the county's public schools.
In a trial that is expected to continue through this month, lawyers representing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People hope to prove that even with cross-county busing, the district's public schools have never been desegregated, despite orders to do so 10 years ago.
The lawsuit claims that black students are assigned to schools whose enrollments are less than 32 percent or more than 72 percent black. The proportion of black students in the county's schools has more than doubled since 1972, from 23 percent of the student population to 52 percent.
The suit also questions the school board's practices in hiring and assigning black teachers and other professionals.
In addition, the naacp contends that black students are more likely to be disciplined than white students and that disproportionate numbers of black students are assigned to special-education classes.
The case is being heard before Judge Frank A. Kaufman, who presided at the original trial involving the district, one of the 20 largest in the country.
In an attempt to make better citizens of its students while avoiding the conflict often touched off by "values education," the New York City Board of Education last week announced plans to mount a major effort to teach citizenship in all its schools.
At the heart of the project is a 307-page curriculum guide, developed by the school system, that contains lessons for students from kindergarten through the 12th grade.
To be introduced next fall, it will offer teachers methods of getting students "to consider the results of their actions upon themselves and their communities."
In addition, the board of education is proposing that $195,000 be spent to create a New York City Center for Law and Citizenship to coordinate the curriculum project and other citizenship activities already in place in some of the city's schools on an ad hoc basis, including a program to bring lawyers into classrooms.
City school officials hope the citizenship program will instill in students support for the rule of law in a democratic society, concern for the well-being of others, and concern for the consequences of one's actions, according to the aims outlined in the curriculum guide.
In one lesson suggested in the curriculum package, students assume the role of a crime victim in order to learn to empathize with victims. In another, students play a game without rules in order to learn about the need for laws in an orderly society.
A Long Island, N.Y., woman has been charged with forging sick notes and running school-hour beer parties for junior-high students.
Marie Corcoran, of Oakdale, was charged with 24 assorted misdemeanors, ranging from contributing to the delinquency of a minor to unlawful imprisonment, and with violations of the state's education law.
According to Suffolk County police, scores of students between the ages of 13 and 15 from Oakdale-Bohemia Junior High School attended Ms. Corcoran's parties, where they were offered beer and, by some accounts, marijuana.
She then reportedly signed the names of the students' parents to sick notes that the students gave to school officials the next day.
Police were alerted to Ms. Corcoran's activities when a student's parent was called by school officials to explain her daughter's excessive absences from school.
After the parent insisted that her daughter had not missed classes, school officials showed her a number of excuse notes, which the woman said she never signed.
Ms. Corcoran, who faces up to 24 years in jail if convicted, was released on bail pending a June 1 court hearing.
At least 300 students at a Syracuse, N.Y., high school walked out of classes late last month to protest tougher discipline codes and the presence of armed guards at the school. The walkout occurred after the armed guards, who patrol the two high-school campuses of the North Syracuse School District, searched a student's car for alcoholic beverages at North Syracuse High School.
Blaise A.H. Salerno, superintendent of the district, said that students' resentment of the district's two-year-old discipline code apparently was brought to a head by the incident. Mr. Salerno said the new discipline policy includes stronger penalties for tardiness, bans hats and radios in school, and prohibits students from wearing clothing with obscenities written on it. The new discipline code also prohibits students from leaving school grounds during class hours except to work at an off-campus job.
He said the tougher discipline measures were instituted because "of a serious erosion of student deportment and conduct."
Mr. Salerno said that the armed guards are not allowed inside the school buildings and that their role is to protect students' property and to prevent drug trafficking on school grounds.
So far, 200 of the students involved in the walkout have been given five-day suspensions, according to Mr. Salerno.