Years ago, when our kids were just starting school, I recall the conversations about holding the boys back. If they were born sometime around the cut off date that it might be better to hold them back because they were too small or not ready or whatever the reasoning was. I was amazed. But if everyone was doing it, how could you be the only parent that didn’t. Lucky for us, our kids were all born a few months after the cut off date so we never had to make that decision. How do we get parents to stop the nonsense?
I just finished reading The Overachievers, The Secret Lives of Driven Kids by Alexandra Robbins. Bravo to Alexandra from writing this book. She explores how the high stake race into getting into a top college has become out of control. The pressure on each individual kid to succeed, be the best, rank number one, get into the Ivy Leagues, get the best SAT score, be the captain of a variety of sports teams has put childhood on hold. The back lash from this is cheating, over testing, sports injuries, drug use, depression, suicide and worse of all the ability to be yourself. Each kid is doing what college advisors tell them to do. You wonder who are they? How are they ever going to be able to enjoy downtime? How are they going to be able to function without their parents doing everything for them? Are they actually going to be happy with the college that their parents want them to go to? Will they be so burnt out by the time they get to college that they won’t be able to perform?
This book is coming out at a very poignant time. Recently the SAT test has changed to incorporate an essay so the test lasts somewhere around 5 hours with breaks. 5 hours for a 16 year old to take a test that might make or break getting into the college of their choice. Crazy…right? I believe the test just signifies if you are a good test taker. Years ago the SAT actually helped colleges find a kid who might have done poorly in school but tested well on the test. Maybe there is something there that they would not have seen before. Now, it is driven by tutors and preparing for years to excel on this test. In essence the kid who come from upper-middle class families can afford to have their kid tutored, those that don’t can’t. The test isn’t a fair assessment. William Hiss (quoted in the NYTimes today) who is the VP for external affairs at Bates College said something that I think is right on the money. Hiss said "human intelligence and ambition is more complex, more multifaceted, than any standardized testing system can capture."
Recently some top Liberal Arts schools have made the decision to not use the SAT as a guide. Thank god. They are looking at the individual kid. Who they are and are they the right candidate to provide a balanced class. Robbins explores the admissions process too. They aren’t looking for the kid that has taken 6 AP classes necessarily. I remember growing up and there weren’t any AP classes. What has happened?
Do I want my kids to get into a good college, of course. But, I want them to get into a college that is the right fit for them. I also want them to have a balanced life. As I write this I hear our kids outside without a group of friends enjoying the last gasps of summer, playing in the pool, talking about silly things that teenagers talk about not talking about grades or SAT’s or how they will achieve next year. They all know that they are expected to do the best they can do because that will make them feel good about themselves. But it is for them not for us.
Robbins makes some great points at the end of her book. Here is a few things that she recommends what high schools can do. Drop class rank, deemphasize testing, provide less-competitive alternatives, limit AP’s, Re-institute recess. What colleges can do is boycott rankings, scrap the SAT, Eliminate early decision, prioritize mental health and send a message that allows students to what they enjoy vs. what they are supposed to do. Most important, here is what she recommends that parents can do, limit young children’s activities, get a life (one kid said in the book that he wished his parents had some other hobby besides himself), schedule family time and place character above performance. What students can do is stop the guilt, adjust the superstar mentality, carve an individual path, pick a college that reflects you and pare down the activities, reclaim summer.
My hope is that a backlash is coming. Backlash to No Child Left Behind. What I mean by that is bring back the arts, gym and music. It has been proven that those activities actually enhance children’s learning habits in math and science. Stop living vicariously through our children, stop thinking that an Ivy League School means success for later in life, etc. Carpe diem. Work hard but enjoy the moment of being 10, 13, 15, 18, 25 etc.