The weakest and most vulnerable element in education, particularly in the developed world, is the education of adolescents in our secondary-school systems. Relative economic prosperity and the extension of leisure time have spawned an inconsistent but prevalent postponement of adulthood. On the one hand, as consumers and future citizens, young people between the ages of 13 and 18 are afforded considerable status and independence. Yet they remain infantilized in terms of their education, despite the earlier onset of maturation. Standards and expectations are too low. Modern democracies are increasingly inclined to ensure rates of close to 100 percent completion of a secondary school that can lead to university education. This has intensified an unresolved struggle between the demands of equity and the requirements of excellence. If we do not address these problems, the quality of university education will be at risk.
To make secondary education meaningful, more intellectual demands of an adult nature should be placed on adolescents. They should be required to use primary materials of learning, not standardized textbooks; original work should be emphasized, not imitative, uniform assignments; and above all, students should undergo inspired teaching by experts. Curricula should be based on current problems and issues, not disciplines defined a century ago. Statistics and probability need to be brought to the forefront, given our need to assess risk and handle data, replacing calculus as the entry-level college requirement. Secondary schools and their programs of study are not only intellectually out of date, but socially obsolete. They were designed decades ago for large children, not today’s young adults.