Thursday, April 17, 2014

Blame The School?

I have this conversation with students sometimes:  is it the school that compels you to take 4 AP classes at the same time?  Is it the school that schedules so many non-academic activities?  Is it the school that has you compete in multiple sports?

I have no doubt it's the school, backed up by the parents, that tells you that you must go to college.  But the school only provides opportunities for pressure, for the most part it's others who apply that pressure.

That's why I get fired up when people talk about the school when kids kill themselves:
His death is one of six apparent suicides at Fairfax’s W.T. Woodson High School during the past three years, including another student found dead the next day. The toll has left the school community reeling and prompted an urgent question: Why would so many teens from a single suburban school take their lives?
I don't think it's the school.  I think it's the community.
“There is too much stress in my life from school and the environment it creates, expectations for sports, expectations from my friends and expectations from my family,” Jack wrote. He ended with a simple: “Goodbye.”
School is the focus of a teenager's life.  Perhaps we need to clarify what is meant by "the school".  When I use that term, in general I'm referring to the adults who run it as opposed to the students who inhabit it.  Jack's list above indicates to me that school was a nexus for expectations from everybody in his life, not just the adults at his school.
Many wonder if there is a common thread. A number of parents and students said they worry about the fierce competition for limited spots in the state’s prestigious public university system.
This college arms race has got to stop.  We, the adults at school as well as the adults in the community, have got to stop insinuating, or even saying outright, that if you don't get into such-and-such a university, or any university at all, you won't be successful in life.  We've got to stop this masquerade of "college and career prep" wherein everyone has to go to some type of college, and some have to go to a Tier 1 school or be left behind.  That last one falls firmly on "the school's" shoulders

Kids get involved in that arms race because of adults.  Adults can look around all day and try to figure out why kids are killing themselves, but in this community it seems clear to me that the answer lies in the mirror.

Hat tip to Joanne Jacobs.


Auntie Ann said...

We have a kid in a hard-core school in Los Angeles. I tell people that it's not the school that makes it that way, but the tiger parents and the tiger kids--a great deal of the drive and competitiveness comes from the kids themselves.

There is outside pressure, though, which is the fact that it is harder to get into a good college today than it used to be. A student has to be near perfect academically, while lettering in two sports a season, and running a multi-million dollar charity in their spare time.

I kid, but only just.

maxutils said...

I could not agree more. My 11 year old son is already freaking out that he might not be able to get in to UC Davis ...I did that with an okay GPA, good SATs, and 2 AP classes... The kid that got in to every Ivy League School this year? He took 11 AP classes. I don't know how you can even attempt that... and, it's definitely not one sided when these kids snap. It's a combination of school, parents, society ... and the kids. My parents made it very clear that I would be going to college, but the pressures I faced were nothing like they are now.

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

It's not what it was and even what it was is pretty bad. :/

Dan Edwards said...

my youngest son did not get into his top 3 choices - Cal-Tech, MIT and Harvard. He has about a 4.8 gpa, state mock trial award winner (one of two top pre-trial attorneys in 2013 Calif. Mock Trial finals), President of school Green Club and lots of community service.....he wonders what else he could have done to get into those schools as a Physics major (Astrophysics) must choose between UC Irvine and UC Berkley. Two of the other top students at his HS are going to UCB.

Ellen K said...

I think there are far too many parents who send the message to their kids that they must be perfect in order to succeed. These are the same helicopter parents who do their children's work for them early in the game, who make excuses for their student's behavior and who cast blame at everyone except the student for failure While it is sad a student was so distraught over testing that they took their own lives, blaming the school is the easy way out. I have seen too many kids whose parents push to game the system for admission to exclusive colleges.

Here are some of the things I have seen students do in order to succeed by some weird unwritten code accessed by parents.
-A number of students started a badminton club so they could say they participated in intramural sports
-A girl started a photography club just so she could put down that she was president of a club.
-Students sign up for and pay dues for a variety of national honor clubs-French, Spanish, Art, Science, Math-yet rarely attend a meeting. This week I will hand out honor cords and if I haven't seen a student since August, they won't be getting one.
-We have students signing up for AP classes not because of inherent love for or skill with the subject, but because of college admissions.
-While schools do benefit somewhat from having more kids take AP classes, I don't know of a single teacher who wants some kid drifting through a class just for the sake of the school's image. Yet, having said that, my school did data breakdowns on who is taking AP and now there's a big push to get African American boys more involved in AP programs. While I am sure there are many young men of color perfectly capable of success in AP classes, I would hate to see programs diluted in rigor simply for the sake of appeasing the data gods in administration.

During the years my kids were in high school neither of my sons were even vaguely interested in AP classes. My daughter, however, took classes in AP Spanish, English, World History, Chemistry and Physics.

Sandy said...

Woodson is my alma mater, class of 87. Many of my classmates experienced that same level of pressure, and although some of my classmates had "tiger parents," most of the pressure came from within the student body. When I entered as a junior, I was asked by a number of other students what my class rank was. I had no idea! Turns out that with a B average I ranked within the bottom third of my class of 525, which was a factor in my social standing at the school, since clearly I would not be attending a top tier college. Fortunately, I was a music geek and it didn't bother me too much- until I almost lost my out-of-state music scholarship because class rank was a factor for school admission. The scholarship committee had to explain to admissions that this was not a typical high school. BTW, this the same high school which Chris McCandless ("into the Wild") attended. He graduated in 86.

Auntie Ann said...

>> [ maxutils ] I could not agree more. My 11 year old son is already freaking out that he might not be able to get in to UC Davis<<

The fear is that something fundamental has actually changed. That top students are no longer matching at levels close to the schools they used to get into. In many states the top state schools are now locking kids out who would have gotten in in previous generations. State schools prefer out-of-state and foreign students who pay more for tuition. With tight budgets, it's the kids of tax-paying in-state families that are being hit hard.

Add to this the added expense of taking 6 years to graduate and wracking up ridiculous levels of student debt. There is also the incomprehensible collection of quasi-academic classes and degrees at many schools, which offer little of value to the student beyond an easy-A.

Then consider the stories of college drinking and schools' social life that are out of control, and studying that is perfunctory, and families begin to wonder what the point is.

The whole view of college is starting to shift, with a combination of desperation to get into a big-name school--because at least an impressive name on the parchment has value--and doubts over whether the level of actual learning comes close to meeting the students' needs.

maxutils said...

Auntie Ann, you are correct. I am counseling my kids to do community college for two years and transfer. I went 4 years to UCD, but it was cheap then. Seriously cheap. Community college cheap, almost. It isn't any more... nor even close. As to going 6 years undergrad? I would blame that on the student. When I was in college I graduated with 2 degrees in 4 years. And yes, the scheduling took work... but even then, it's doable.
I really think it's the school's fault. Not everyone needs to college, but we tell them that because it makes us look like better educators. And, grade inflation is ridiculous. Having a 4.8 GPA out of 4? Either the teachers are wrong, or you're insane. No one should have a GPA that high.

Auntie Ann said...

I like the way some high schools give students the opportunity to take community college classes their junior and senior year.

If all of those AP classes are supposed to be just like the intro college classes, why not *actually* take the college classes instead? For many students, they might as well do their junior and senior year of high school concurrent with their freshman and maybe even sophomore years of college.

A lot of homeschoolers are turning to this option too.

maxutils said...

One really good reason is that a lot of colleges are not recognizing passing AP scores ... maybe out of pride, maybe out of money making. But a lot of times you can get a 5 and not get college credit.