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College Stress

May 27, 2008

I’ve been thinking more of our countries undergrads as of late. This is undoubtedly influenced by my participation in the Mosaic Summer Institute at Temple. Along the lines of my last post on undergrad bachelors’ degrees, a piece in Slate by Anne Applebaum examines how High-school seniors are more stressed out than ever—just like the rest of us.

Applebaum looks at the data with an air of sadness. On the one hand, some kids in the States are working like crazy to get into the ivy-league schools, often with success. As Applebaum puts it:

Those who play the game most intensively are often rewarded: The child who takes 15 AP courses, plays the clarinet in three orchestras, runs a Cambodian refugee camp in the summer, and eschews lunch all winter really does have a better chance of getting into college than the child who plays kickball after school in the empty lot next door.

On some level that feels like it should be so. Such students should be rewarded. But on the other hand, there is another scenario in the States.

The demographics aren’t good for higher education. Almost half the kids graduating high school aren’t meeting a basic level on science. One in three doesn’t graduate high school “on time.” And for most, reading is confined to less than a half hour a day. What’s worse, in my opinion, is that “No Child Left Behind” won’t help half the problem. While it will address math, science and writing, it doesn’t address an understanding of literature or critical evaluation skills.

These two sides of students’ statistics play into the college stress. Applebaum sums up her piece nicely:

Thus are our kids both stupider than we were and harder working—though perhaps this makes sense. America is, after all, the industrialized country with the fewest paid vacations, as well as the only nation, as far as I know, that considers the “pursuit of happiness” a fundamental right. We invented the assembly line, and we invented the modern notion of “leisure.” So, welcome back to work today, if you even bothered to take Monday off. Spring is here, the beaches beckon—and you’ve only got a few weeks left to find an impressive summer job for your high-school junior.

This situation, the vast divide between the intellectual and motivational haves and have-nots, is what I find fascinating and infuriating. I’m finding myself with students who think texting is writing and the Metro is literature. It’s the lay of the land, by and large; and something that we as educators need to figure out how to deal with.

One Comment
  1. May 28, 2008 3:41 pm

    Sigh, yes I experience this as a pastor on another level.

    Work…work…work…work….work. Reflection, intentional study, and depth have almost become taboos in this culture. “Rest,” has been reinterpreted to be “work I can’t do when I’m working.” It’s insane – and leads to shallowness begetting shallowness.

    I remember working at a middle school up in MA when a mom stressed the importance of getting into an Ivy League school so they could “get a good job.” She kind turned her nose up when I said I went to Eastern for my undergrad work. I did a rather abrupt retort, saying, “Yes, but I didn’t go to college to get a good job. I went so I could learn how to THINK.” She didn’t get it.


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