A childish obsession with adultism

August 24, 2017

Like most people, I believe that there are significant differences between adults and children, particularly when it comes to maturity levels. These differences explain why voting is restricted to adults, why children cannot purchase alcohol or cigarettes, and why all children are required to attend school. There are good reasons why children do not have the same rights as adults.

However, to some politically correct activists, this common-sense principle is actually unjust discrimination. They even have a word for it—adultism.

Adam Fletcher, the founder of SoundOut School Consulting (soundout.org), is an educational consultant and speaker based in the United States. He writes extensively about school reform and argues that schools need to do much more to empower students. He also believes that adultism is the main thing holding schools back.

In an article entitled “Adultism in Schools,” Fletcher sets forth a sweeping definition of adultism. “Bias towards adults happens anytime the opinions, ideas, knowledge, beliefs, abilities, attitudes, or cultures of adults are held above those of people who aren’t considered adults because they are not considered adults. Because of this, our very conception of schools is adultism at work,” explains Fletcher.

Well, when you put it that way, our entire society is guilty of adultism. Apparently, it’s discriminatory to believe that the opinions of adults have any more validity than those of children. When it comes to running a school, students should have just as much input as teachers and principals. Anything less than full equality is adultism.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, Fletcher does not shrink from the logical implications of his quest to eliminate adultism. He contrasts “convenient” student voice with “inconvenient” student voice and notes approvingly that the latter includes topics that impact teaching or governance of the school. Fletcher even complains about the fact that school board meeting rooms and school counselor offices are designed for adults rather than for children.

Of course, old-fashioned people like me would probably argue that these rooms were built that way because only adults are school board trustees and school counselors. I might also point out that meeting rooms and offices are adult work spaces that need to be appropriately designed for professionals to do their work. But there I go again with my adultist bias.

Fletcher’s crusade against adultism stems from his desire to transform schools into student-centred institutions. He believes that “Adultism makes schools today ineffective.” He even quotes from well-known education writers John Dewey and Paulo Freire to show that his anti-adultist agenda fits logically with their progressive ideals.

However, while John Dewey and Paulo Freire were strong proponents of student-centred learning, neither of them went nearly as far as Fletcher. Ironically, by quoting these two education writers, Fletcher is guilty of adultism himself since he didn’t quote any children to back up his position. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that all education writers are adults.

Incredibly, far from being a laughingstock in education circles, Fletcher’s ideas are being taken seriously in schools across North America. His organization, SoundOut School Consulting, provides teacher professional development in school divisions and Fletcher is a highly sought after public speaker. His website is replete with endorsements from education professors, teachers, and school administrators.

It never ceases to amaze me how crackpot theories like Fletcher’s opposition to adultism manage to infiltrate the school system. Giving students a moderate amount of input into how schools are run is one thing. Radically overhauling schools so that we don’t favour adult voices in any way is another thing entirely.

Fletcher’s obsession with adultism is downright childish. It deserves to be rejected.