GST 338: American Adolescence


Course description and goals:

This interdisciplinary seminar explores the male and female experience of coming of age in America. We will study major historical, psychological, and sociological theories of adolescence and examine how the transition from childhood to adult life is represented in literature and film.

A central focus of our study will be the social construction of adolescence: we will identify the specific cultural and historical forces that "invented" adolescence. The principal question we will attempt to answer is: How and why did this developmental stage evolve? Related questions that we will address include:

In using the theories, insights, and methodologies of history, psychology, sociology, and literary study to explore these questions, we will also examine the similarities and differences between the ways these disciplines investigate and illuminate the adolescent experience.


Required texts:

Elkind, David. All Grown Up and No Place to Go: Teenagers in Crisis. Rev. ed. NY: Perseus,1998.

Hersch, Patricia. A Tribe Apart: A Journey into the Heart of American Adolescence. NY: Ballantine, 1998.

Hine, Thomas. The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager: A New History of the American Adolescent Experience. NY: HarperCollins, 1999.

Hogan, Linda. Power. NY: Norton, 1998.

Kaysen, Susanna. Girl, Interrupted. New York: Vintage, 1993.

Perrotta, Tom. Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies. New York: Berkley, 1995.

Wolff, Tobias. This Boy’s Life: A Memoir. NY: HarperPerennial, 1989.


Class schedule:

Unit 1: The Invention of Adolescence and Major Theories of Adolescence



Jan. 31: Introduction; film: "Welcome to the Dollhouse" (1996; dir. Todd Solondz)


Feb. 5: Hine, 1-56; Perrotta, 1-46; mini-lecture 1: Hall & Mead

Feb. 7: Hine, 138-176; Perrotta, 47-91; quiz 1; student leaders: __________ & __________


Feb. 12: Hine, 177-224; Perrotta, 92-113; mini-lecture 2: S. & A.Freud & Chodorow

Feb. 14: Hine, 225-273; Perrotta, 114-133; quiz 2; student leaders: ________ & _______; mini-lecture 3: Erikson & Marcia


Feb. 19: Hine, 274-304; Perrotta, 134-179; student leaders: __________ & __________

Feb. 21 Perrotta, 180-228; Elkind, 3-53; quiz 3; mini-lecture 4: Gilligan & Pleck

Unit 2: Cliques, Gangs, and Outsiders: The Importance of Peer Relations in Adolescence


Feb. 26: Draft of paper 1 due (reader-response analysis of a story by Perrotta), plus 1 copy; Elkind, 55-79; mini-lecture 5: T. Berndt and H.S. Sullivan

Feb. 28: Elkind, 81-134; Kaysen, 3-47; quiz 4; student leaders: __________ & __________


March 5: Revision of paper 1 due (must be attached to draft and peer review); film: "Boyz N the Hood" (1991; dir. John Singleton)

March 7: Elkind, 135-186; Kaysen, 48-91; quiz 5; student leaders: ________ & ________; mini-lecture 6: J. Orlofsky & K.White


March 12: Kaysen, 92-169; Elkind, 189-214; student leaders: ________ & ________

Unit 3: Breaking Away: Parent-Adolescent Relations


March 14: Elkind, 215-238; Wolff, 3-56; quiz 6; mini-lecture 7: Steinberg & Baumrind


March 19-23: Spring break


March 26: Wolff, 57-144; quiz 7; student leaders: _________ & ________; mini-lecture 8: Ausubel and Blos

March 28: Wolff, 145-214; film: "Ordinary People" (1980; dir. Robert Redford)


April 2: Wolff, 215-288; quiz 8; student leaders: ________ & ________; mini-lecture 9: Mavis Hetherington and Armsden & Kobak

April 4: no class: Assessment/SURF; draft of paper 2 (oral history or research investigation) due; independent peer conference


April 9: Research presentations

April 11: Research presentations; revision of paper 2 due (must be attached to draft and peer review)


Unit 4: Identity Formation in Adolescence


April 16: Hersch, 10-80; Hogan, 1-44; quiz 9; mini-lecture 10: Harter

April 18: Hersch, 81-168; student leaders: _______ & _______; mini-lecture 11: Colley and Markus & Nurius


April 23: Hersch, 169-218; Hogan, 45-97; quiz 10

April 25: Hersch, 219-266; Hogan, 99-147; student leaders: ________ & ________


April 30: Hersch, 267-324; Hogan, 149-193; quiz 11; student leaders: ________ & _______

May 2: Hersch, 325-375; Hogan, 195-235; quiz 12; draft of paper 3 due (oral history or research investigation), plus one copy


May 7: Presentations

May 11: Presentations (3:00-6:00); revision of paper 3 due (must be attached to draft and peer review)

Course requirements:

Since the format of this class is almost exclusively guided discussion, attendance is important. More than three (3) absences in the term for any reason will result in a lowering of your grade (by one half-grade for each absence over three). Although you will be especially responsible for initiating and sustaining discussion on the days when you're a discussion leader, mini-lecturer, and research presenter (see below), you should contribute to every class session. Contributing regularly and substantially is especially important in this interdisciplinary seminar because I am not an authority on all the disciplines (psychology, sociology, history) that we'll be drawing from to investigate the adolescent experience in America. The class will succeed only if you're willing to share your own knowledge, expertise, and experiences.

You must: do the assigned reading on time; bring insights, questions, and concerns to class; offer your own ideas and interpretations; challenge statements made by others (teacher and assigned authors included) that seem off-base and provide support for those that seem on-target; make your classmates comfortable and draw ideas from them. Above all, you must listen to classmates. You can't contribute to a discussion unless you're following it carefully.


  1. Research investigation: A paper (10-12 pages) and presentation on an aspect of American adolescence that particularly interests you will be due in early April or May. This paper will require significant primary and secondary source research. (For many topics, such as the appeal of "Pop Tarts" like Britney Spears for girls in early adolescence or height-consciousness among adolescent males, field research—interviews, surveys, or controlled observation¾ will be an essential primary source.) Begin with a narrowly defined question that you’d like to answer through extended research. Some possibilities:

The thesis of this paper will be an original and insightful answer to the investigative question that you pose. Support your thesis with clear and convincing evidence from primary and secondary sources. You may write this paper collaboratively if there’s someone in the class you’d like to work with and if you select a topic with sufficient depth and complexity to legitimize a partnership. This paper (and a presentation focused on the highlights of your research) will be due in early April for half the class and in early May for the rest. (Requests for deadlines should be submitted via email and will be honored on a first-come, first-served basis.)

2)         Discussion leading: To keep me from setting the agenda for all seminar discussions, the first half of one class session each week will be student-led. Meet with your partner before your scheduled session and brainstorm for ideas that will focus discussion on particularly interesting, important, and puzzling aspects of that day's readings. A short (2-page) paper will be due on the day that you lead discussion. In this paper, you should: a) clearly pose those questions raised by the text that we should consider as a group; b) provide rationales for these questions¾ that is, explain why they're important. Make a special effort to ask interdisciplinary questions: invite us to apply theories of adolescence to interpreting texts. Don't answer the questions that you raise and explain: we'll do that in class. You and your discussion partner should collaboratively write this paper.

  1. Mini-lecture: This classroom leadership requirement will provide the psychological and sociological background we’ll need to understand adolescence as a developmental and cultural phenomenon. Your mini-lecture (15 minutes) must:
  1. Clearly present the key ideas of your assigned theorist. Provide us with a short handout that summarizes your main points.
  2. Explain how the principal ideas of your theorist are related to those of at least one other social scientist we’ve studied. (For example, does Mead’s cross-cultural study of adolescence confirm or contradict the "storm and stress" hypothesis of G. Stanley Hall?)
  3. Be more than a talking head or we’ll be bored and drowsy. Make your presentation interactive by asking questions that require us to use the theory to interpret a scene from a film or TV show, a song, a current event, a story we’ve read, etc. (Play the video or audio recording, but keep it brief so that we have time to discuss it in detail.)

3)         Oral history: Following the model provided by Studs Terkel (whose oral history collections¾ Hard Times, Working, Race, and Coming of Age¾ define this nonfiction genre) write a brief oral history (4-5 pages) that captures an adolescent experience that differs (in gender, sexual orientation, historical context, race, ethnicity, class, religion, nationality, etc.) from your own.

4)         Reader-response criticism: An autobiographical response to Bad Haircut, this essay (about 5 pages) will explain how your experience of adolescence affects the way you read and interpret one of Perrotta’s stories.

5)         Quizzes: Brief 5-point quizzes will be given on the days specified on the class schedule. These quizzes serve two purposes. First, they are intended to encourage you to attend to significant details of the assigned texts. (These details usually provide keys to a work's meaning and an author's purpose.) Secondly, the quizzes should motivate you to keep up on the reading so that you're prepared for discussion. Missed quizzes cannot be made up, since that would defeat this second purpose. I will, however, drop your lowest quiz score before calculating your final quiz grade.


Course grades:

Daily participation: 10%

Mini-lecture: 10%

Discussion leading: 5%

Research investigation: 30% (25% for paper, 5% for presentation)

Oral history: 10%

Reader-response criticism: 15%

Quizzes: 20%