behavior · children · learning · school

When the future becomes detrimentally more important than the present

I read this article in the New York Times a couple of days ago, and it really bothered me:

Since second grade, Nathaly has taken advantage of a voluntary integration program here, leaving her home in one of the city’s poorer sections before 6:30 a.m. and riding a bus over an hour to Newton, a well-to-do suburb with top-quality schools. Some nights, she has so many activities that she does not get home until 10 p.m.; often she’s up past midnight studying.

“Nathaly gets so mad if she doesn’t make the honor roll,” says Stephanie Serrata, a classmate.

Last Wednesday, Nathaly did it again, with 5 A’s and 2 B’s for the first marking period.

via Let’s Get Ready Offers Help for College Admissions – NYTimes.com.

At first I couldn’t figure out why; it was a story essentially about all the great programs that our K-12 education system has for getting help and getting ahead in school and prepping to apply for prestigious colleges. Then, when I looked closer at the lead picture of the article it hit me:

Nathaly Lopera in her Passport class, one of several programs she attends to help her get into college. Article by MICHAEL WINERIP, New York Times, Nov 20th, 2011

This 17 year old girl is yawning in her class, and it’s not from boredom or because she stayed up too late the night before chatting with her friends online. It’s because she is working so hard to get into college she isn’t getting enough sleep. Her health is suffering for a future prospect of getting into a “good” secondary education facility.

I find this idea horrible. Yes, it’s great that all these programs exist for kids to get help in applying to college and help in school. I was a tutor in high school, and I took SAT-prep courses which helped me immensely. I applaud this girl’s dedication to her education and her future. I absolutely appreciate the idea of staying up late to study for finals every once in awhile. However, constant sleep deprivation is REALLY dangerous, both in the immediate present (poorer performance, slowed reaction times) and in the future (delayed physical and mental growth). Being sleepy is just as dangerous and being drunk behind the wheel of a car.

I truly believe that this push to get kids into a “good” school, focusing on the future, is a really bad idea.

There was the uproar earlier this year about the self-described “Tiger Mom” and her pride in how hard she pushed her kids. Again, while I appreciate how much she is dedicated to her daughters’ success, there have been numerous studies that show kids do just as well without the focused drilling by their parents. An extra push every now and then, and support driving them to piano lessons or football games? Absolutely! But a parent does not need to be a drill sergeant, nor does the kid need to be literally killing themselves to get into a decent college. A documentary came out in April discussing the phenomenon, called The Race To Nowhere, which does a really nice job of capturing how a lot of this college-prep focus is about as useful as a chicken running around with their head cut off.

I understand this kind of drive starts as early as preschool in many communities, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy into it! Yes, of course I want my future children to get a good college education. Yes, I want them to receive quality primary education. But focusing so much on the future is absolutely detrimental to the health of the child and to the parent.

I would love to hear back from people who have either dropped out of this school rat race to focus more on developing and spending time with their child now, or from people who feel this kind of dedication is essential and worth the health risks.

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