Is Academic Overachievement Hurting Our Kids?
Nikhil Swaminathan / GOOD
CNN reports today on a rash of adolescent suicides in the Mumbai area tied to students cracking under intense academic pressure. Admission to top Indian colleges and universities, such as the Indian Institute of Technology, are based solely on the results of a single test, and children jump through a number of preparatory hoops in order to perform well on these exams.
Failing to come through in the clutch can devastate children. According to the CNN story, India’s suicide rate is one of the highest in the world—and 40 percent of those deaths are of adolescents. In the Mumbai area, there have already been 25 suicides this year.
Although that problem seems a world a way, a recently released documentary title Road to Nowhere explores the same issue facing American children. Writing on Psychology Today’s “The Power of Prime” blog, performance psychologist Jim Taylor calls the film “a real reminder of the very human and societal costs of our current education system.”
We’ve focused a lot on the perils of inadequate schools on this blog; this film essentially probes the other end of the spectrum: The unhealthy lifestyle of over-scheduled children who balance extracurricular activities with advanced placement classes, long nights of studying, minimal amounts of sleep, and (what looks like) not a lot of fun.
According to Taylor, we’re creating children who only know how to study for tests and who may be unable to cope with the real world:
The ramifications for the students themselves extend beyond the current physical and psychological toll; there may very well be a price they pay in their futures. For example, such a mind- and body-numbing educational experience will suck any joy of learning they may have right out of them. The current emphasis on rote memorization will sap their internal motivation to learn. As highlighted in Race to Nowhere, today’s students may lack the critical thinking, creativity, and focus necessary to survive, much less thrive, as they enter higher education and the working world.
Ultimately, these concerns become an indictment of testing in general—and its perceived importance to children who want to succeed, teachers who want to keep their jobs, schools who want funding, and college admissions committees who want to show their getting high quality students (who perform well on tests). It’s a pretty daunting cycle.
Nikhil Swaminathan is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. He was a reporter at Scientific American and an associate editor at SEED magazine. His work has appeared in both of those publications, as well as Newsweek, Mother Jones, The New York Post, The Village Voice, Scientific American Mind, Psychology Today and GOOD. He grew up in Atlanta, Georgia.