I often think about whether students in the U.S. should specialize earlier. With knowledge multiplying at an unprecedented rate since our age of computers, we need to learn more in order to reach a level of competence. Fortunately technology also accelerates our rate of learning, but it might not make up for how much we need to learn. This is especially the case in scientific research and technology-related fields, where being innovative and making discoveries requires one to be at the apex of current knowledge. Since these fields are also very competitive, the U.S. might be losing a competitive advantage by having their students wait longer than those of other countries to hone in on their career field. By reaching a competitive level of understanding at a later age, Americans might be at a disadvantage for a few reasons. First, peak brain processing power occurs at the early age of 18 . Also, Americans consequently spend fewer working years at a competitive level. Finally, the age at which we gain expert level knowledge is now butting up against when most Americans start a family, which is especially destructive to women’s careers.
I believe that the U.S. has a tradition of waiting longer in part because of its emphasis on freedom – freedom of movement, freedom of thought, freedom to change. American universities also tend to emphasize the holistic person, which entails being well versed in both the sciences and humanities. In fact, many if not most universities have graduation requirements that curtail students’ abilities to limit their education to one field, for example by setting course requirements like literature, languages, science, math, culture, and more. While some diversity of thought and creativity may be gained in pursuing this diverse curriculum, I don’t believe that it makes up for the disadvantage in waiting. Most students know whether they’re better at the sciences or the humanities, for example, early in their gradeschool years. Allowing children to focus in on their best subjects should not be viewed as limiting their academic pursuits, but rather as expanding their potential.