I remember falling asleep in class when I was in high school. One time a teacher told me off in front of everyone else – I had gone to class at 6 am for an optional study session for Honors Chemistry after only sleeping about three hours, and I pretty much slept through the whole thing. I was convinced that something was wrong with me, that maybe I just didn’t have the drive necessary to stay awake even though everyone else seemed to be able to. Another time I was so excited to see Nelson Mandela interviewed on television – I slept through the interview and felt like such a failure afterwards.
It turns out I was just a normal, sleep deprived teenager, trying to juggle AP classes and extracurricular activities and finding that there were not enough hours in a day. The author mentions (but does not link to – at least the digital version does not include many notes – to me this is a major flaw of the book) studies about sleep deprivation and teens. (By the way, I read through Chapter 7.) Teenagers who juggle too many activities on too little sleep are, according to Robbins, more likely to be depressed, have “negative moods, decreased school performance, increased likelihood to try stimulants, and a higher risk of accidents and death.” I am inclined to believe her, because we heard similar things, and more, in NurtureShock (for example, that SAT and math scores improve when teens gets more sleep).
Another challenge students increasingly face is the emphasis on test scores over actual learning. Sometimes they tell me about their experiences with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and, because we are in Florida, the FCAT. I have heard so many horror stories. It is extremely stressful, and there doesn’t seem to be any emphasis on actually retention of knowledge. And I wonder how much fun it is for the teachers? – if they have to devote the majority of their time to making sure one test goes well in order to keep their jobs, I don’t think we are best utilizing their skills and talents. how are your skills and talents. Here is a quote from the book:
No Child Left Behind has already changed the face of the United States classroom, and the results are disturbing. The exclusive emphasis on tests has left students sick with stress in even the youngest grades; some schools reported that on testing days, up to two dozen children vomit on their test booklets. In Florida, when a seventeen-year-old honor roll student failed the state test and was told she wouldn’t graduate with her class, she attempted to kill herself.
The book explains that NCLB was modeled after a program in Houston, which sounded as though it was extremely successful at increasing test scores and discouraging kids from dropping out of college. Evidently the program, which hasn’t been successful at the national level, didn’t work in Texas either – those impressive results that led to a national program turned out to be fraudulent. (Robbins gives specific evidence of this, but I haven’t fact checked her.)
There is so much in these chapters – I could go on and on. Here are a few more highlights:
Cheating is an epidemic among smart kids. One student explained it this way: “The whole reason cheating is popular is because it’s busywork, for the most part, and you don’t feel you need to learn the material because it’s not important. For teachers I respect, if they make the effort to teach me something useful, I’m not going to cheat.”
I try to make my assignments as engaging as possible, but I have caught some cheaters. It feels terrible to be the one the students don’t respect. On a positive note, I assign a lot of writing in my classes, and the blatant cheating has only happened a few times. And sometimes the student “accidentally” plagiarized by copying and pasting large passages of text, then slapping a citation at the bottom of the page. For me it is more common for students to speak to me about their papers as they are writing them – some show me drafts, other ask questions here and there, and sometimes they give me regular updates on papers they are particularly invested in.
Not only do we pressure kids too much in the classroom, we do it on the sports field as well. Robbins gives the following statistic: “Every year, more than 3.5 million children age fourteen and younger are treated for sports injuries.” That’s a lot, particularly because many of them are the types of injuries that can only occur with many hundreds of hours of repetitive activity. I remember reading about this in A Nation of Wimps, too, and I repeat that I don’t want to ever lose my head and make my children believe that being the best at any sports is worth permanent, irreparable injury. If this keeps them out of the Olympics or the “Big Leagues,” I’m alright with that.
This section also discusses private preschools for children, and highly competitive kindergartens that involve standardized testing and personal interviews with both parents and children. Naturally, I read these paragraphs with great interest. I’m not sure how Little Mama would do on the tests. As a parent, I know it’s hard to resist the urge to compare our kids to other people’s, so I tried to imagine our girl in the interview room when the author was describing the ones she got to witness. At nearly four, she is decent at math, and spends a great deal of time voluntarily filling pages with letter practice. She isn’t reading yet, but enthusiastically points out her sight words (from school) when I read to her. She can draw a few shapes (she has been practicing stars lately – her attempts look pretty much like “A’s”), and I think she is excellent with scissors. I’m proud of her, of course.