News articles continue to focus on a changing perspective on education and goal setting. I have read a number of these articles and they gave me pause. No, let me much clearer than that. These reports frightened me, they dismayed me, they frankly terrified me. The pieces were about children. Our children. Young people who trust adults to guide them, to encourage them, to protect them and to help them grow. It is sad to acknowledge that we may no longer be focused on those tasks.
Not so long ago, the tasks of childhood were couched in play. Play, Piaget said, was children’s work. Childhood was a time of mastery, of discovery, of exploration and development. No longer is this a simple accepted truth.
The Washington Post asked “Is your infant college ready?” (http://wapo.st/1KvLQv0). This was a replay of an earlier article in the New York Times: “Is your First Grader College Ready?” (http://nyti.ms/1KcTJqW). They reported on six year olds who draw college mascots, who are encouraged to choose colleges they seek to attend, and who hang mock applications to colleges on the bulletin board in their first grade classroom. The level of competition, narrowing of focus and harrowing pressure defies my imagination. Will SAT vocabulary words become essential playlists for infants in utero?
This loss of childhood was coupled with a report in Education Week (http://bit.ly/16kQr5L) indicated that current college freshmen demonstrate the lowest levels of emotional well-being ever recorded. And the New York Times stated that more freshmen than ever report feeling depressed (http://nyti.ms/16Hbu3u).
Small wonder. The college application process has become all encompassing. Instead of teaching children about the world, we are teaching them to present themselves as packaged entities – complete, directed, focused and perfected. High school freshmen are urged to begin developing resumes. “To Do” lists include not only academic excellence but sports, music, arts and community service. And earn some college credits before you graduate, if you can. Nowhere in those lists are there times for exploring or reflecting on their personal values or interests.
We are taking our children and literally whittling them down until they fit into a proscribed mold that supposedly ensures success, by an unclear definition. We begin trying to shape them into a vague notion of the ideal adult before they are able to cross the street by themselves.
By the time they get to college, they are lucky to have any kind of sense of true identity or what they want to explore. Interest and curiosity have been drilled away. Their formative years have been spent pursuing not necessarily their interests and passions, but activities that someone thought would enhance their admissions prospects.
The process itself becomes the sole reason for being. The intellectual and emotional health of our children is being diminished and endangered. No matter their achievements and discoveries, they hear a whisper into their ear “It won’t be enough”. Accomplishments become diminished by the overwhelming sense that someone else is better. Their adolescence is shaped by an overwhelming drumbeat that pounds out a message“that may still not be enough”. Their sense of self becomes inextricably linked to an admissions process that can be unreliable at its best. Our kids are graduating with a sense that they are notenough.
It is time for all of us- parents, teachers, counselors, admissions professionals- to stand up and collectively proclaim, clearly and loudly: ”Enough”. Enough pressure. Enough test prep. Enough resume building. Enough scenarios that declare your efforts insufficient.