In an earlier post, I talked about how in Excellent Sheep, the Miseducation of the American Elite & The Way to a Meaningful Life, William Deresiewicz says “The purpose of life [has become] the accumulation of gold stars.” (Excellent Sheep, page 16) How does he relate that to education? How does it relate to high school? Can AP failure teach kids how to fail?
The problem is that high schools have now evolved to turn out these super students. And then, “it doesn’t matter if your parents aren’t crazy…because the environment is.” (Excellent Sheep)
Deresiewicz stated this observation, but he gave the impression that he didn’t believe it. However, this really relates to our current situation. We really don’t want our kids taking classes that require enormous hours of homework. But all the kids who take school seriously, who like to engage in conversation in class, are taking the crazy homework load, preAP/AP classes. So our kids have found their class-time in “on-level” classes frustrating and annoying.
I’ll also admit that also takes a lot of research and reassuring yourself with data and information to not panic every time you hear what everyone else is doing. It’s always scary that your child might be “getting behind.” You’ll keep hearing that “college admissions have changed.” “Everyone applies to 6-10 colleges but they only get in a few, so be sure and apply to some ‘safety’ schools.” When you haven’t been through the college admission process yet, this is the only “data” you have to go on unless you really start researching.
One of the sad things is, that in spite of knowing the low admission rates, kids are often devastated by the admissions process when they don’t get in to the elite university of their choice. For some kids, it’s the first time they failed at anything.
Wait. What? Failure is supposed to be a good thing, right?
I’m going to pause in my discussion of Excellent Sheep to explore this idea.
When you read about success, “the ability to fail” comes up time and time again. Kids need to learn how to fail.
This can be hard to accomplish for bright kids, especially if they have other talents besides academics. This is probably one of the factors that led to things like AP classes – the idea that you need to challenge kids enough that they learn how to fail.
The problem is that it’s not the level of difficulty that weeds out the students at the top, so much as it is the speed with which they can memorize and go without sleep. To be fair, you could look at speed and the ability to function on little sleep as talents and skills that some kids are better at developing. And you can reach a point in developing those skills that some kids fail.
But, in my experience, the kids at the top are either operating on dangerous levels of sleep deprivation, figuring out ways to navigate the system (only reading Cliff or Spark notes – never a novel, splitting homework with a friend, etc.), or have nothing in their life besides school and hours of homework. Or all three.
While there is some use of those skills in moderation, are these really the skills we want teens to be developing to perfection?
That really is a whole new topic, so for now I’ll get back to the question of the “rigor” of high school being an area where some kids start to fail. And supposedly you can see in college admission applications if kids have started to fail or if they can continue on and win the education race.
Now we’re to the point of considering that failure to get into an elite college should be part of “learning how to fail.”
The problem is, to get to this point the kids are overworked and sleep deprived. They’ve devoted so many hours — and in fact their entire life! — into getting into an elite college. There has been no time for “enjoying the journey along the way” to quote an oft used phrase. They are devastated, because they’ve been told over and over that getting into an elite university is their key to “easy” success in life. (Or worse, that it’s the only way to success in life.)
In light of the exhaustion, and the message they’ve been absorbing about school their entire life, when all that work doesn’t pay off, it’s no wonder it’s more than disappointing!
The irony is they’re so busy trying to get into an elite school that they don’t have time to stop and think about why they even want to be there in the first place.
Of course all of this is part of the quest to be “the best.” I’ll look at that in my next post about Excellent Sheep.
Posts in this series reviewing Excellent Sheep
- Excellent Sheep review and discussion – Excellent Sheep Part 1/5
- The Accumulation of Gold Stars for Success – Excellent Sheep Part 2/5
- The College Admissions Arms Race – Excellent Sheep Part 3/5
- AP Failure and the College Admissions Arms Race – Excellent Sheep Part Part 4/5
- The Worth of Being the Best – Excellent Sheep Part Part 5/5