In the New York Times on January 3, I (Clive) came across a fascinating column by Vicki Abeles (Sunday Review section) about the negative impact current school “reforms” are having on children. According to her, they are undermining the health of students, both rich and poor and from kindergarten to high school.
Abeles has written a book (which I plan to get asap) aptly titled “Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation,” and has produced documentaries “Race to Nowhere” (as distinct from Race to the Top) and “Beyond Measure.” But in the column her focus is on research conducted by Stuart Slavin at Irvington High School in Fremont, California, “a once-working-class city that is increasingly in Silicon Valley’s orbit.” In cooperation with the school, he anonymously surveyed two-thirds of Irvington’s 2,100 students and found that “54 percent of students showed moderate to severe symptoms of depression [and] 80 percent suffered moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.” The school is trying to address the problem, for example by re-examining homework demands and counseling students on achieving a manageable course load.
Based on her own inquiries and reflections, Abeles attributes much of this anxiety and depression to the enormous pressure young people are under today to climb the ladder of schooling, with a view to getting into a good college and/or job. “Even those not bound for college are ground down by the constant measurement in schools under pressure to push through mountains of rote, impersonal material as early as preschool.” Apart from opposing this general approach to schooling, Abeles sees practical lessons that can be learned from Irvington’s approach. Toward the end of the article she suggests:
“Working together, parents, educators and students can make small but important changes: instituting everyday homework limits and weekend and holiday homework bans, adding advisory periods for student support, and providing students opportunities to show their growth in creative ways beyond conventional tests.”