Tufts 1+4 Plan: Gap Years!

As those who know me “in real life” know, I’m a big fan of gap years – after all, I did drop out of law school, move across the country, and take up surfing.  So I’m happy to hear that Tufts will be doing a fully-funded gap year programme for incoming freshmen. (Story here.) Through the 1+4 initiative, Jumbos will be able to do community service at home or abroad, then return to campus with hopefully more focus and energy:

While the program is expected to ramp up over time, the target is to have 50 students participate in the first year. The goal is to place four to six students at each site to create satellite Tufts communities that will support them and foster their development as civic leaders. Each cadre of students will have an academic advisor who will sustain their connections to Tufts and encourage students to consider how the bridge year will shape their education and career aspirations. The hope is that the 1+4 experience will equip the students to be campus leaders when they matriculate at Tufts.

I’m a fan of almost all of this – the fact that even working-class kids will have access to this, the way that students from all majors and disciplines can participate, the way in which learning takes place outside of the classroom – but find myself mildly irked by the “leadership” component.

We’re talking about teenagers here. While it’s good for them to do the young-person version of leadership (leading clubs, teams, etc.), we shouldn’t elevate “leadership” in teenagers to such a status symbol.  Heaven knows, the world is full of bad leaders, leaders with no ideas, leaders who alienate their followers, and leaders who have never done any of the grunt work things that their employees/underlings have done. Perhaps we ought to be teaching young adults to do basic tasks well, rather than groom them to be “leaders” simply because they are smart and good at taking tests.

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