Sleep later or put the brakes on?

We hear more and more about sleep-deprived teens, teens and others with ADD, ADHD, and so on, as if teens themselves were the only locus of these problems. But shouldn’t we also pay more attention to the fact that we seem to be rushing them through the school system at a faster pace than perhaps most of them are ready for? I think about the modestly-talented kids who press to take AP and other advanced classes “for college.” I think about kids taking advanced math classes as sophomores, stuff that used to be college material. Are kids getting smarter and swifter or are we stuffing them like geese for foie gras?

I wonder if there’s time anymore to explore issues that come up in class, to really work at the kids’ speed instead of our own. I speak as someone who works with highly privileged students, but I can see it affecting students everywhere and there doesn’t seem to be any end to it. The super pressure starts early with the overscheduling we read about, then the drive to be “perfect” or to accept nothing less than “the best.” This without regard to the child’s own abilities or desires, as if “the best” were an absolute value. Not measuring up would doom you…

As a teacher, what’s my responsibility? To help students learn as best they can and to the best of their abilities. If I can bring them beyond what they thought they could do, I’m thrilled; but should I try to drag them across the finish line even if they’re exhausted and unwilling? And should I keep an eye on college sweepstakes when I know that my students cover the range of abilities and aspirations?

I think educators need to stop and think: Colleges say students are unprepared even as high schools seem to be forcing their students through more and more advanced coursework. Is there a disconnect here? Perhaps if high schools took more time to cultivate its students rather than forcing them to grow faster than they ought, they’d develop their skills better and arrive at college with a better foundation for the rigors of college life.

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About Will Dix

I am currently writing a book about college admission. I'm interested in the intersection of the college process and American culture. I attended Amherst College in the 1970s, taught high school English and theater at The Hill School in the '80s, returned to Amherst in the '90s as an admission dean, and began the '00s as a college counselor at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. I then joined Chicago Scholars as Program Director. Currently, I blog about college admission for Forbes.com. I also help community organizations serving low income students understand the college admission process so more students can consider gaining access to higher education. I have a few private college counseling clients that I take by referral only. The views expressed in this blog are mine alone.
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