It is relatively old news for me to tell you that teens are under an enormous amount of pressure these days. I know there’s a correlation but I still find it very curious, in my experience as a youth pastor, that the highest achieving students are often the ones that are struggling the most with anxiety. The kind of anxiety that necessitates prescription meds to cope and overcome. I’m not writing this to be critical of parents in their efforts to help their children continue down the road to success as adults. Nor am I writing this to be critical of schools. I would simply like to share a few observations and a few things I’ve learned.
1. What Is Failing? We should encourage and even push students to maximize their academic ability. Even if a student is capable of getting all A’s getting a B never has and never will be failing. Unfortunately I know all too well from personal experience the gap between a B and actually literally failing a whole class let alone one test or assignment. I know it both at the High School and collegiate level. When you’ve really failed a class you have two options; either admit defeat or take the class again. If you graduate with a B average there is a very small number of schools you will either have a difficult time getting into or simply don’t stand a chance.
2. What Is The Right School? I didn’t believe it when I first read it because it went against everything I had ever been told since Middle School. I don’t have the book in front of me but Not Quite Adults: Why 20-Somethings Are Choosing a Slower Path to Adulthood, and Why It’s Good For Everyone, by Richard Settersten & Barbara E. Ray to quote it, but it they’re research and findings challenged what a lot of us tell young people about the importance of getting into the right school. We tell students they need to get into these top-tier schools to get an advantage when it’s time to get a job start a career and get paid. Whereas it may have been true thirty years ago today the only measurable difference that can be found between top-tier colleges and universities (with the exception of Ivy League and a handful of other schools) is the debt students leave with. In some cases the difference in the debt is absolutely crippling. With the job market being in the current state it’s in the advantages to going to a more prestigious school are not as profound as it once was.
3. What Remains True? Of course considerations need to be made for a particular school having a strong department in the field of study one wishes to pursue, but one thing remains true. It’s not what you know, but who you know. Put more accurately it’s not so much where you go, but who you get to know wherever you go. Personally I’m not big into networking (the very thought of it exhausts me) but I’d be a fool to think that who I know had little to do with where I am today. I went to a relatively small university in the middle of nowhere Michigan, but I met the right people while I was there which helped in landing a job at a mega-church straight out of college. The irony for me is that one of the people I knew had no affiliation with the university I was attending at the time.
4. Success At What Cost? I recently met with a middle school student of mine who was struggling with some things at school. They were conflicted with the fact that she had started become the target of cheating. In other words other students were looking to her to allow them to cheat. Nothing new with cheating except I found it interesting that this is a student who is in a number of honors classes. Maybe I’m naive or revising my own experience but I recall it was usually the students who weren’t high achievers trying to cheat, but now it’s the kids who have shown they can apply themselves and perform at a high level academically who are opting to cheat. Personally I think the extra emphasis on “class rank” has a lot to do with it. It’s not enough to show you’ve mastered what you’ve been taught you have to outperform everyone else, and thus a culture of cheating has gotten out of control.
Conclusion: I’m sure some of you will disagree with my observations and conclusions. Disagreement is welcome. At the end of the day we all want the same thing for our young people. We want them to grow up to be successful and high achieving adults who contribute to the world being a better place. We also want to see them be healthy and not fall victim to crippling stress and anxiety. Therein may lie the biggest problem. We have an entire generation of young people who have been bathed in the culture of fear that has been created and the finger of blame could be pointed in a lot of directions. A whole post could be dedicated to that topic alone, but in the meanwhile t wouldn’t be a stretch to say if we peeled back the layers on each of the four observations I’ve made here we’d find a culture of fear at or near the core of each one.