Saturday, March 27, 2010

Student sues over forbidden study.

Colin Carlson is a sophomore at the University of Connecticut working on a bachelor's with a double major in ecology and evolutionary biology. So it made some sense that he signed up for a class on the flora and fauna of South Africa. (Watch out for the gogga, bokkie.) The university refused to allow it and Colin's gatvol over it.

He's halfway through university and complains: "They're upsetting the framework of one of my majors." And they are. It's either this year or next and it's unlikely they will allow Colin to take the course next year either. It isn't that there is no space on the course. The issue is that it requires field work in South Africa over the summer and the school won't let Colin go. Almost any other student on campus is allowed to go, provided they are not on probation and have at least a "C" average. Colin is not on probation and has a 3.9 GPA, which is bascially an "A+" average. The school says it is because he is 13-years-old.

Colin says that is age discrimination and is suing.

Colin started taking university classes when he was 9 even though he only finished the Stanford University Online High School until the advanced age of 11. That was when he enrolled at UConn full-time. He taught himself to read when he was 2 and had finished and was deep into the Harry Potter series by the age of 4.

Colin's mother, Jessica Offir, has offered to sign any legal documents needed to remove all legal responsibility from the university, if they allow Colin to take the course. She has even offered to fly there with her son as an escort, at her own expense.

Colin is upset because the course was critical for his particular interests and said that his ban from the class has forced him to change plans for his thesis. He does have a trip to South Africa planned anyway, wieth a National Science Foundation-funded research group.

The university says it is because they are concerned about his safety. Ah, that desire to Nanny others and protect them from themself.

Colin didn't want to sue, but says he was offered no choice. "When people are drawing lines in the sand, you're going to have to cross them. I'm not going back."

I am a bit disappointed with UConn myself. They seemed amazingly flexible as an institution in the past, they allowed me to design my own major. There were only four or five of us on campus allowed to do this, but we determined the course of our studies provided we had a professor acting as our mentor. My mentor taught sociology with an emphasis on criminology and eventually became a libertarian—which pleased me as you might expect.

The reality is that "adolescents" are far more capable than we ever give them credit for. This was well outlined in The Case Against Adolescence. As I see it, adults treat adolescents as if they are children and then can't understand why they are frustrated, angry and moody. Ninety percent of the time problems can be solved with a simple explanation. Ah, but parents don't explain. Why? Because they can't. Too often parents lay down arbitrary, inconsistent rules and when their teen asks them, "Why?" they can't give a rational answer. So the resort to the answer of the bully: "Because I said so."

Instead of using such times to teach reason and logic, too many parents try to teach blind obedience to authority and respect for the ability to use force. I have more confidence in the teens than I do in the adults of this country. Why? Simple: the adults have already proven they are incompetent and capable of screwing things up.

So I applaud Colin for pursuing his dream and his education and applaud him for standing up for himself in the face of UConn's policy. If want teens to act like adults we have to stop treating them like children.