NIAS Seminar Series: The power of youth: Character development and citizenship in a democratic society

27 May 2010 from 15:30 to 15:30 hrs
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Michiel Westenberg & Micha de Winter

Michiel Westenberg (Leiden University): Adolescence has a bad name. Not only for parents who are faced with rebellious and hedonistic kids who do not take anything seriously, but also in public debate where adolescents are being made scapegoats for a wide array of social problems. However, in reality adolescence is not primarily a period of great turbulence "or sturm und drang" - as was believed for a long time. In fact it is a period in which many steady advances are made. In this talk the focus will be on the growing body of research concerning positive or 'upward development', for example with reference to the development of character. Adolescence is not so much a storm that should subside, but the time of entry for all kinds of capacities and insights. Brain-research however, warns us that adolescent development can be compared to starting an engine without a licensed driver behind the steering wheel. The question is whether present practices of upbringing are doing justice to the needs of adolescent development.
>Micha de Winter (Utrecht University): No youth is as depraved as the last . Analysis of present-day youth policies show that - again - the main focus is on restraint. The general idea is that youth have been allowed too much freedom, and that the limits should be tighter. Freedom however is a problematic concept. The distinction made by Isaiah Berlin between negative and positive liberty could provide a constructive way out of the fruitless polarisation between 'hardliners' and 'softies' in youth policies. In short: negative liberty is about the area in which people can do what they want to do, while positive liberty is about content: the way people want to live their lives with others. If we apply this conceptual distinction to youth policies, we can see immediately that the focus is primarily on the limitation of negative freedom, while positive freedom has been almost completely forgotten. However, for raising active, critical citizens in a democratic society the education for positive freedom is a sine qua non.


The NIAS Seminar series is a sequence of lectures organised each academic year by the Rector of the Institute. These seminars are meant to appeal to interested parties from a wide range of backgrounds. It is hoped that the series will encourage closer contact within the Dutch academic world.


The lectures are followed by an open discussion.