Every Teenager a Michelangelo: Can Studio Schools Prepare and Engage Adolescent Minds?

Many parents and teachers struggle to engage the nebulous minds of teenagers. How does one teach a brain that’s constantly fluctuating?

As Shannon Brownless, acting director of the New America Health Policy Program wrote in US News, a teenager’s pre-frontal cortex isn’t yet mature enough to handle certain judgments and dilemmas. “An unfinished prefrontal cortex also means that young teenagers may also have trouble organizing several tasks,” she wrote.

Bobbie Dunn of We Teach We Learn expanded on Brownless’ thought: “It is very important to work with adolescent brains, instead of continually expecting them to succeed with worksheets, vocabulary lists, and long-term assignments with no short-term goals, which can tend to work against their brains, overwhelming them and causing them to struggle with prioritizing.”

One idea for reaching teenage learners comes from Geoff Mulgan, chief executive of the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts. In his TED Talk on embracing the concept of the studio school, he said: “Large numbers of teenagers learn best by doing things. They learn best in teams and they learn best by doing things for real—all the opposite of what mainstream schooling actually does.”

Mulgan’s pedagogical effort resembles the concept of Renaissance studios, prevalent in Europe for three centuries beginning in the 1400s. Student received their tutelage from experienced masters, and artists and inventors such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo learned their trades in this setting. Can the digital age return to this Renaissance concept?

Studio schools are catching on in England as the idea continues to spread by word of mouth. Mulgan and his colleagues founded two schools, which grew to 10 within the next year and 35 more are expected to open soon. These schools include a variety of emphases, from creative and media industries to health care, tourism, engineering and many others.

What did you think of Mulgan’s idea? Do you believe the studio schools currently educating many European students can reach the malleable minds of America’s youth?