High Stakes?

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In light of the recent report from the University of California Los Angeles’ Higher Education Research Institute indicating that college students’ emotional health is the worst it’s been in 20 years, some wonder if it’s testing and academic pressure that causes the stress. The evidence is a little weak.

According to an article by Maria Eugenia Miranda in Diverse Issues in Higher Education:

The new documentary “Race to Nowhere” highlights issues affecting the country’s youth, including anorexia, anxiety, depression and drug abuse, that stem from high-stakes testing and the pressure to succeed. It is being screened for six months through a community viewing campaign.

“The film is the starting point for change,” says filmmaker Vicki Abeles, “It is raising widespread awareness that our pressure-cooker culture and education system isn’t serving many of our children.”

The documentary spotlights overworked kids who spend sleepless nights just to fit in several hours of homework, sports, community service and other responsibilities. Pushed to build a sparkling resume to be admitted to college, many kids burn out.

The trouble with this is that those overworked kids who spend sleepless nights building the perfect resume aren’t typical. These are merely ambitious kids who haven’t learned good time management yet.

Is that a symptom of “our pressure-cooker culture”? Well it very well might be a symptom of some poor parenting decisions in some households in America’s relatively affluent suburbs, but this is certainly not true all across America.

A true “pressure-cooker culture” would arguably produce some depression and drug abuse, sure, but it would also produce a little more achievement, wouldn’t it?

In fact the average black 12th grader reads at the same level as the average white 8th grader. Only 63 percent of those who start college actually finish. And then there are the overwhelmingly common stories about how poorly American high school and college students compare to those in other developed countries.

If there’s too much pressure on American students, it’s decidedly the wrong kind, and perhaps directed at the wrong people. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer