In today’s Wall Street Journal is another reminder of how we are robbing our youth of their happiness while pretending to say we care about it:
Almost two-thirds of middle- and upper-middle-income high school students in the San Francisco Bay Area told researchers that they were “often or always” stressed by schoolwork, according to a series of surveys of 2,700 students conducted last year by Stanford University researchers.
More than half the students reported that they had dropped an activity or hobby they enjoyed because schoolwork took too much time. More than three-quarters reported experiencing one or more stress-related physical problems in the month prior to the survey, with more than 50% reporting headaches, difficulty sleeping, or exhaustion. About 9% said they had illegally used prescription drugs like Adderall or Ritalin to stay up and study; 25% said they used stimulants like Red Bull or No-Doz.
“On the surface, these kids look like the most privileged group in the world,” says Madeline Levine, a psychologist who has been working with the Stanford study. “But their parents know there is something wrong. They are not getting the basic sleep they need, the basic food they need.”
How did 11th grade become such a grind? High school has long been a painful rite of passage. And heavy workloads are typical for elite-college-bound kids in countries such as Japan, South Korea and France. Teachers and principals say homework in the U.S. started increasing in the 1990s, when national concern over falling test scores prompted the introduction of more standardized tests, increasing pressure on high schools to toughen their curricula.
Here’s what I wrote to the article’s reporter, Jonathan Kaufman:
I must say, your article reinforced my own observations and concerns that I have been gathering over the last several years. In students I interview for my alma mater, Princeton, in meeting with Princeton undergrads, and in talking to high school students who are children of my neighbors, I think we educating our youth far too narrowly and placing far too much emphasis on building up the resume for college. I may of course be failing to remember my own high school days properly, but I probably averaged 2-3 hours of homework a night, even though I took one AP course as a junior and three as a senior.
Back in the late 70s (I graduated from Okemos high school in 1980; Okemos is still considered an elite public school in Michigan), we could graduate with 22 out of the maximum 24 credits. This meant I finished my senior year every day at 11:30 a.m., and could still have a very involved extracurricular life, work a part-time job my spring semester, and still have lots of unstructured time. I made sure I had lots of unstructured time in college, which may have hurt my job prospects a bit, but in the long run I think I’ve done fine. I earned a Ph.D. at Michigan after working for GM for 3 and half years after college, and have a career and lifestyle that is highly engaging, intellectually stimulating, financially rewarding, and last but not least, FUN.
As with many aspects of our kids lives, we are rushing them to adulthood far too soon. They are more educated, and less learned, than I was at their age. Much of the wisdom and joy I’ve gained in my life has been from spending lots of time with great friends. The fact that my wife and I don’t have enough time for it now as parents and professionals means it was all the more essential that I had the chance to do so while high school and college.
I will be thrilled if my own two children, 13 and 10, both go to Princeton, but I won’t let them become sleep-deprived zombies to do it. I’m proud that my kids love playing poker with me, and pick-up basketball, that they are learning how to play golf even though I have no patience for it. Childhoods are for children, and much of the childish behavior I see in adults is because they never got to be children in the first place. Many of the leaders profiled in our just-published book, regularly reflected back on childhoods with lots of play, and I think the are much better leaders for it.
On that note, I’m heading off to buy National Treasure 2 to watch with the family.
P.S. If Ms. Glickman would be interested, I’d be delighted to email her about my wonderful 3.5 years at Princeton (the first .5 was when I was an engineering major and hated it), and the fact that I had lots of time to play. My friends and I, many of whom I am still close to, worked hard and played hard, and are the better for it.