Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Even Further Behind

I attended an advance screening of a film this evening hosted by our local library and learning center, and the film's producer (Reel Link Films). The film's maker, Vicki Abeles, lives in our area and has travelled across the country to gather interviews for the film. The film is called "Slipping Behind" and it is about the pressures on youth, particularly high school students, but also as young as 3rd grade, to excel at school, in sports, in the arts, and in other extracurricular activities. Among the shocking content I heard tonight:
  • Applause for a 15 hour/week limit on high school sports commitment (n.b. this is still more than 2 hours/day on top of school work)
  • Success is currently thought of as constant work, and being good at everything.
  • In the 1940s high school students did 3-4 hours/week of homework; now it is more like 3-4 hours/day.
  • 80% of students admit to cheating in some form because they don't feel they can do all of the work on their own. This is often viewed as "borrowing" someone's work.
  • Adolescents need 9-11 hours of sleep each night. Many high school students are getting only 4-5 hours of sleep each night.
  • What might be an escape from the stress of school - sports, music, theater, etc. often turns into a new form of stress as the competition levels increase or when the student feels they cannot do something they love because they don't have time for it.
What drove me to attend this meeting is the nagging feeling that it spells disaster for children with special needs and those at risk if even the brightest and best are overwhelmed by the current atmosphere of pressure-cooker achievement. In the end the film questions whether we're even teaching youth the right skills when in the work force they will succeed most by being flexible, optimistic, enjoying their work, and being able to work on a team. We are failing ourselves and our children by putting pressure on GPAs and test scores because the best conceptual learning does not occur under pressure. It happens with real world applications and time for exploration. If students who learn things readily and need only a modicum of discipline to focus on required tasks are struggling to succeed, how will the child who struggles to read or write or whose attention drifts easily be able to even subsist?

I'll plan to write a response to these questions from a Biblical perspective in my next post. It would be easy to get wrapped up in fear with these ideas floating in my mind, but I will trust instead that God has the answer.

Part two Achievement
Part three Achievement
Part four Achievement


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