In brief

10th October 2003 at 01:00
FOREVER YOUNG: The "teen-aging" of modern culture. By Marcel Danesi. University of Toronto Press (distributed by Plymbridge) pound;14.

With the exception of fleeting references to high school proms and the failure of sex education to encourage safe sex among teens, Marcel Danesi doesn't touch on education until the final 10 pages of Forever Young. When he does, his view of schooling is alarming and, given the insightful argument he makes about the evanescent nature of teens and teen culture, incoherent.

His argument that popular culture is imbued with a "juvenile aesthetic" is interesting and informative. His semiotics background comes in handy when contrasting today's view of the angst-ridden adolescent with his medieval counterpart; then, adolescens referred to pre-pubescent boys who moved away from their families to work in a guild or trade. Danesi finds that today's adults are desperate to avoid growing up. From the sale of cosmetics, through the teen slang adopted by adults (such as "247") to the baby boomers who still groove to Sirs Mick and Paul.

Word that the US National Academy of Sciences has decided adolescence ends at 30, and that the McArthur Foundation cites 34, clinches the argument.

Danesi correctly notes that teens are driven by desires for sex and other immediate gratification. Why, then, does he suggest that high schools should be restructured so they teach what teens perceive as being "meaningful" to them? His attempt to dress up the "idea that teaching specific subjects to all children and adolescents may have run its course and outlived its usefulness", by saying that in ancient cultures "priests, shamans, or elders" determined what individuals learned, is disingenuous.

Danesi's suggestion forgets that one of the root meanings of "education" is to lead out of ignorance.

Nathan M Greenfield teaches at Algonquin technical college, Ottawa, Canada

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