In his OP ED column in the New York Times today, Frank Bruni writes about "Today's Exhausted Superkids". These, by and large, are kids in suburban communities whose parents - in the last ten years or so - have completely lost their minds. They sign their kids up for fifteen activities a week, push them to take as many AP courses as possible, talk to them about the athletic scholarship beginning at age seven, and apply so much academic pressure, their kids are sleepless and burnt out by the age of sixteen. Bruni states how kids in these communities feel so much pressure, they cheat, take Adderall, and aren't getting nearly enough sleep they need to develop and grow.
I know what he's talking about because I live in a community like this. Far too many of the kids in my town get whatever they want, have never been told no, are pushed hard by their parents, and by and large, are spoiled rotten. My kids are surrounded by peers who show up for baseball games toting $500.00 dollar bats, and $275.00 dollar gloves. Two kids on my son's freshman baseball team this year made fun of the summer team he was playing on because it wasn't "elite" enough (the team they played on cost $3,000.00 dollars for the summer and that didn't include travel expenses). My niece is going into her senior year of high school, and her parents have been pushing college on her since the day she started eighth grade. She attends a high achieving magnet school, and is very smart, and also hasn't slept properly in years. I recently took her to a concert, and at dinner before the show, she complained to me about how "...no one sees me for who I am. There's more to me than just the smart kid whose applying to college." I felt terrible for her.
The funny thing is, I live in this world, but teach kids from a completely different world. My students have no idea who they are - or could be. The word potential means nothing to them. This past year, I was telling one of my classes that they all possessed the intelligence to do or be whatever they wanted. One girl looked at me and asked "Why you always gassin' us like that? Why you always tryin' to tell us we're smart?" They honestly didn't know how to respond to being told those words. One day at school, I had a female student confide in me she was pregnant. I had a boy tell me he and his mom were about to become homeless, and one of my favorite students came to school with his jaw wired shut. He told me it was the bi-product of a basketball game, but I knew he was lying. I knew from another student he had been "jumped in" by the local chapter of the Crips. That night I stood in my kitchen crying because I knew three of my students lives were never going to be the same.
On the Daily Show last week host Jon Stewart had President Obama on. The president spoke how the "best education of his life" was when he worked in a poor section of Chicago as a community organizer. He basically said that venturing into a poor, inner-city community was the best education he ever got. My own kids and their peers worry about what college they're going to get into. They live lives that are no different than the student sitting right next to them in class. They put all of these pressures on themselves, and never step out of the world they live in, and enter college with no real grip on the world that's out there. If they really want to know what it's like out there - they should drive ten miles up the road and see kids living in poverty. They should come to my school and meet the boy who was going to be homeless with his mother. They should the boy whose options consisted of joining a gang - not going to college or trying out for an elite travel sports team.
Want to take pressure off of our kids? Have them spend their summers working in an poor community so they learn and understand what's going on out there and also how blessed and lucky they really are.