Monday, March 27, 2006

Pressure to succeed

I couldn't help but be struck by the latest Asian editions of Time and Newsweek magazines, which both tackled stories on education. Time's Liam Fitzpatrick asks "Are We Pushing Our Kids Too Hard?" while over at Newsweek, Emily Flynn Vencat wonders, "Is Rampant Cheating Undermining Our Schools?"

Anyone else see a connection?

Back at the high school where I taught, one of the toughest issues was overscheduling and pressure. Kids literally would take classes every period of the day (we had nine 40-minute class periods) -- skipping lunch and avoiding study periods if at all possible. Their goal? To take as many high-level and AP classes as possible so that they'd shine above other students who took "just a regular load" of classes. A recipe for disaster? Definitely! (That's why, as part of its strategic planning process, the school is implementing nine new action plans to "encourage a healthy, balanced life.")

Obviously, pressure to be an "uber-student" can push kids over the ethical edge into cheating. The numbers are shocking, according to Newsweek:
"In a huge study of 50,000 college and 18,000 high-school students in the United States by Duke University's Center for Academic Integrity, more than 70 percent admitted to having cheated. That's up from about 56 percent in 1993 and just 26 percent in 1963. "
Are over-scheduling and cheating big problems at JIS? My gut tells me no. The students I know seem pretty even-keeled about school. JIS does a great job of supporting activities outside of school like sports and clubs, and its increasing emphasis on social service helps kids see that there's life outside the priviledged walls of academia.

But for schools (and parents!) it's always wise to be aware of the issues -- and of the pressures that our kids face. Tonight I'm going to ask my middle-schooler how she's doing in school, and I'm going to just sit back and listen. (That's hard to do! I'm usually so full of "good advice"!)

Hope your break is going well....

2 Comments:

At 6:54 PM, Blogger Catherine Quoyeser said...

I know I'm blogging too much and promise to pipe down after this.

But it seemed an irresistible coincidence that JIS topics should take its present turn. I too read the cover story in "Time" as well as an editorial on similar themes by Thomas Friedman, author of "The Lexus and the Olive Tree," in the March 24 edition of the "International Herald Tribune." I would reproduce the link for "Education Anxiety" here, but unfortunately the piece is available online only to "NY Times Select" subscribers.

Friedman argues that many countries recognize the quality of their systems of education to be a key factor in their performance in the global economy and are keen to address what they perceive as national weaknesses.

Not surprisingly, Americans would like to strengthen math and science instruction and learning achievements. Asians, on the other hand, would like to do a better job of nurturing the kind of critical thinking and creativity necessary for innovation. Of course, the "Time" article Cheryl discusses also indicates that many Asians are concerned about placing too much pressure on students.

Friedman suggests further that national systems of education may be headed for some kind of global convergence given current trends.
Perhaps international schools are best placed to experiment with synthesizing the best of Western and Eastern (and Northern and Southern?) education.

As the Council seeks to respond to recent research of its moral owners or stakeholders, this type of synthesis may point the way to reconciling divergent views and values, which Valerie Skane has alluded to.

By the way, differentiated instruction could also prove very useful in reconciling the needs of ALL students, whether they have learning differences or not. In other words, the learning support program can be regarded as one aspect of JIS' new and ongoing efforts to ensure that instruction meets all students' needs in an equitable fashion. They're all paying around $15,000 per year for enrollment, after all.

On a final note, I would love to hear from the parents of high school students on the question of academic pressures, especially since my son is an 8th grader this year. Whether or not this is a problem at JIS, it is undeniably the case that the world of work has become more stressful and insecure, in part because of new technologies. In the USA, for example, members of the workforce can currently expect to have an average of 3 distinct careers over their lifetimes.

Wouldn't it be marvelous to establish the conscious and skilled habit of stress management early in life? So for now, I stand by the third of my top 4 desired abilities of JIS graduates in my comment on Cheryl's previous posting.

 
At 7:00 PM, Blogger Catherine Quoyeser said...

I know I'm blogging too much and promise to pipe down after this.

But it seemed an irresistible coincidence that JIS topics should take its present turn. I too read the cover story in "Time" as well as an editorial on similar themes by Thomas Friedman, author of "The Lexus and the Olive Tree," in the March 24 edition of the "International Herald Tribune." I would reproduce the link for "Education Anxiety" here, but unfortunately the piece is available online only to "NY Times Select" subscribers.

Friedman argues that many countries recognize the quality of their systems of education to be a key factor in their performance in the global economy and are keen to address what they perceive as national weaknesses.

Not surprisingly, Americans would like to strengthen math and science instruction and learning achievements. Asians, on the other hand, would like to do a better job of nurturing the kind of critical thinking and creativity necessary for innovation. Of course, the "Time" article Cheryl discusses also indicates that many Asians are concerned about placing too much pressure on students.

Friedman suggests further that national systems of education may be headed for some kind of global convergence given current trends. Perhaps international schools are best placed to experiment with synthesizing the best of Western and Eastern (and Northern and Southern?) education.

As the Council seeks to respond to recent research of its moral owners or stakeholders, this type of synthesis may point the way to reconciling divergent views and values, which Valerie Skane has alluded to.

By the way, differentiated instruction could also prove very useful in reconciling the needs of ALL students, whether they have learning differences or not. In other words, the learning support program can be regarded as one aspect of JIS' new and ongoing efforts to ensure that instruction meets all students' needs in an equitable fashion. They're all paying around $15,000 per year for enrollment, after all.

On a final note, I would love to hear from the parents of high school students on the question of academic pressures, especially since my son is an 8th grader this year. Whether or not this is a problem at JIS, it is undeniably the case that the world of work has become more stressful and insecure, in part because of new technologies. In the USA, for example, members of the workforce can currently expect to have an average of 3 distinct careers over their lifetimes.

Wouldn't it be marvelous to establish the conscious and skilled habit of stress management early in life? So for now, I stand by the third of my top 4 desired abilities of JIS graduates in my comment on Cheryl's previous posting.

 

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