Friday, April 20, 2012

The Overachievers

So on a whim last week I requested this book from the library titled, “The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids.” OMG. This book describes my experience practically to a T in high school. I wish I could have read it back then, because so many things I was feeling/thinking felt so isolating. I felt like I was the only one.

I recommend that everyone who is a parent, educator, student, teacher, brother, sister, aunt, uncle…aka EVERYONE… READ THIS BOOK. No, it does not describe every high school student and the overachieving experience isn’t everyone’s, but it highlights a lot about what high school is like in regards to classes, standardized testing (the evil of No Child Left Behind), teachers, grading, cheating, college admissions, college rankings (a joke), medications, drinking/drugs, sex, eating disorders, and peer pressure.

I remember the exact day of high school when I realized I was different from the “average” student. It was the day we got ranked at the end of my freshman year. I was in the top 10 of my class. Until then, I HAD NO IDEA people didn’t treat school the way I did (I also had the mindset that it was my job, so I was supposed to do well!). Well, this book goes into how that moment changed me as it does many students, though many feel the pressures to achieve begin in elementary school, and how parents/society are a large part to blame.  Outside pressure didn’t change me until high school when I was “tracked”, but I was always a perfectionist, so I put the pressure on myself. No matter the source, pressure exists, and we are not doing enough to combat the misconceptions about high school and education. Are we preparing students realistically for the real world? What are we teaching them by saying they should go to college? How does grade inflation affect learning? How is technology affecting student’s ability to learn in the classroom?

Go to the library now.

Some notable quotes/facts:

“Overachievers across the country told me that they felt all of the effort they had expended to present themselves as attractive applicants- grades, test scores, extracurriculars- would be a waste if they weren’t admitted to highly ranked universities…because only that success would mean that they were ‘good enough’ and ‘achieved something.’”

College Board rankings are based on arbitrary factors that are made so that certain schools will always be ranked higher. School personnel rank other schools. Schools falsify statistics to push themselves to the top or get by on their name alone that was from an era where prestige was assessed differently. College Board is also about making money.

“Some overachievers look down on peers who don’t aim for top-tier schools. They think a prestigious degree will translate into a higher salary, a better job, an easier life and a high social status…but merely going to college is a larger factor than the school a student attends.”

“SAT scores increase by 30 points for every $10,000 their parent’s make a year and level of parent education alone explains more than 50 % of differenced in students’ scores.”

The SAT was changed in 2005 to make it more “teachable” to and to allow for the University of California’s 76,000 applicants (largest pool) to still require the test as they felt it was not a good measure for college admissions and were abandoning their applicants need to take it. Now the writing section has been added which widens the gap between minorities even more because the writing section is so different in how it grades than other writing tests that it needs to be taught to (they playfully graded famous authors on their rubric…Shakespear got a 2 out f 6 and Hemingway a 3).

“She was scared she would never find a job, that she wasn’t happy and would always be unhappy, that she would wake up one morning and realize she had wasted her youth…that she wasn’t having fun. She traveled from one worry to the next in a constant whirlwind of second-guessing and apprehension, worrying about kid things and adult things, caught in the middle stressing about the future and the past.”

"Even those who are doing extraordinarily well, the 'happy warriors' of today's ultra-competitive landscape are in danger of emerging a bit less human as they try to keep up with societies unrealistic expectations."

I leave you to think about this: Thousands of twentysomethings (myself included) feel so lost after leaving the school setting. We don't know what we want to and don't know who we are because we have constantly been told or shown what we should do and what is expected. The stark difference of this generation and the previous ones is an 'extended adolescence.' We can't make decisions, have no direction, are afraid of failure, are depressed and don't even know how to have fun that is not 'scheduled.' We constantly think: Am I doing this right? Life isn't so black and white, but in the world of education and achievements, right is the only way.
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