Overachieving Teens Are Not The Norm
> 8/23/2006 11:42:56 AM

An informed and somewhat troubling op-ed in the Washington Post asserts that recent reports about largely overworked American high school students misleadingly focus on exceptions to the rule. The most serious problem facing our education system is not too much work but too little, as the vast majority of our under-performing teenagers simply aren't bothered by academic anxiety.

The article specifically references a new book by author and investigative journalist Alexandra Robbins. Her book posits that growing pressures about academic performance, parental scrutiny and professional goals lead to greater levels of stress, depression, and suicide among American high school students. While such trends may hold true in some communities, columnist and op-ed author Jay Matthews points out that the schools surveyed by Robbins are in traditionally upper-class neighborhoods that do not represent the rest of the country.

Matthews cautions against using the real-life cases documented by Robbins to judge the education system at large, and numerous surveys bear out his opinions. While some seem to believe that teens should have more free time to pursue constructive pastimes and self-education, the majority of them spend far more time watching television, playing video games or surfing the web than studying or reading for pleasure. While the students studied in Robbins' wealthy Maryland suburb take an average of five AP classes and spend four hours a day on school work, a UCLA survey of college freshman found most of them reporting that they spent an hour or less on homework during high school. Newer studies report 15-17 year-olds spending an average of about forty five minutes on school work per night; their outside reading habits are almost nonexistent.

Though many kids undergo undue stress because of high academic expectations, students in under-achieving districts around the country aren't doing much work at all. We obviously need to worry about parents who pressure their children with unrealistic ideals, but most of our kids would benefit from heavier courseloads and stricter grading systems to remind them that breezing lazily through high school has larger repercussions.

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