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The Educational Armed Race: All Fun left Behind

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
Recently, there have a been a several posts lamenting the state of today's child and the growing pressures placed on them by the education system. The opinions by many seems to be negative but the question to ask is why?

I originally wanted to post this in the general forum so as to get the opinion of students who are currently going to school but not too sure if that is allowed. I wanted to find out about the opinions of everyone from those who have school-aged children, to educators, to those who are currently working, to students themselves. Perhaps in the process provide some insight and advice to the young readers on the board.

The world is a more competitive place than in the past. In the developed world jobs that require lower education are moving abroad because of the issue of cost. And that education while no guarantee for a job certainly helps. Even before going into the workplace, there is significant competition in school as if I recall properly, 30% of post-graduate students are from abroad and the figure rise to 50% with regards to science related studies.

Michael Moore's documentary Roger & Me is extremely illustrative on the point on the modern competitive world, even if that is the main message the director wanted. The mere fact that workers are "honest, hardworking folks" who may never have taken a sick day for 20 years does not mean that the job is guaranteed. And furthermore, even if workers are well-educated, such as having a college degree it does not mean that their jobs are not threatened.

"Specials Ones"
Just as a comment, obviously these would not be applicable to people with special talent. Thus if you are like Bill Gates, then obviously this may not apply although it should be noted that he dropped out of Harvard not because he failed but rather he dropped out to pursue his career in computing.

My Personal Experience:
I grew up pretty much with pressure placed on me on the need to do well. This demand was placed on me even at kindergarden before first grade. I was expected to take part in enrichment courses and other activities, which I never really enjoyed. Subsequently, there was additional demand for me to volunteer for community work. And despite winning some local award for it, I never really enjoyed it. (Although that does not mean I am against helping others, it is just that I did not enjoy the particular form of help.) All these and other summer jobs were of course important as part of a "profile" when seeking to enter college as good grades by itself is not sufficient. I did not enjoy all of those things growing up but realised that it was necessary, especially in light of today's globalised economy.

Alternative: Non?
Yes the pressures on the students are great but the alternative is not much better. What do you think should be the course taken?
post #2 of 8
I don't have kids, but have friends who do. I was also an educator for a short while (wasn't a good fit ).

The biggest problem I see is that kids are not allowed to have a childhood anymore. Fun is something that is scheduled; imagination as well. Long gone are the days when a kid can just go to a friend's house to play in the evening after school. They have too much to do to be allowed to just go play!

Add to this the dichotomy of the system that is currently or being set up about competition. Competition is almost banned for the younger kids so it won't hurt their self-esteem. So scores aren't officially kept (but I guarantee you that every kid knows which team won at the end of the game), and the A-F grade system is being amended so they won't feel bad if they don't do good. NEWSFLASH! Sometimes it's OK to feel bad for not doing good - most times it works as motivation to work harder! Basically, kids are getting mixed messages - you HAVE to work hard and do more, but there's no reward for it at the end (nor is there real punishment if they don't).

Case in point: One friend's child got the obligatory award at the end of soccer season. The same one that everyone on the team got, no matter their performance. No one was rewarded for doing exceptionally well. Her parents were trying to make a big deal out of her getting her trophy, but she wasn't impressed. Her words: "Yeah, but everyone got it. It's not anything special." And she's right. Why work HARDER to be good at it when everyone gets the same thing in the end, whether they were a star or sat in the middle of the field doing nothing?

Pressure in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. I was always expected to get good grades, to make sure my schoolwork was done, and to help around the house too. I was involved in various extra-curricular activities, although since I have zero proclivity to do sports (and even less motivation) I wasn't involved in sports teams. (I didn't find the sport I was good at until I was 16 or so, which is competitive shooting.) I still got scholarships to college for my grades. I have a good work ethic (better than most, as I have found from many stories of people who previously filled my work positions). I am definitely competitive. I consider myself to be a contributing and valuable member of society. All that without having every minutes of my childhood scheduled and pre-planned. How about that?!?
post #3 of 8
Very good question.... It is hard to say. Although we need to ensure our children are suceeding in school, we need to find better ways of doing it. When No Child Left Behindd (NCLB) was pasted many schools all over the country canceled their music, art and gym programs because they are not tested. most have since brought them back ecause of public outrage. We must remeber that everyone learns differently, so we teach to include many different intelegences. Why not test in the same manner?? I have not met an educator who liked or agreed with NCLB, and I don't think that is going to change.
post #4 of 8
I agree with valanhb, inasmuch as the problem isn't too much pressure on kids, but rather what appears to be some need of the adults to totally shield their children from disappointment and discomfort. I don't think the highly regimented, scheduled and scripted "play" our kids engage in is about our society being competitive, it's about making sure our kids are so busy doing sports and other things that they don't have any free time to use (idle hands and the devil, don't you know). And then of course, as valanhb said, all of the rewards for doing well are either gone or diminished because we don't want kids to feel badly for not doing as well as their peers. Bleeech!

I love my dojo (karate school). The sensei has a favorite saying. "The results are never wrong". So, are you unhappy with your performance at a tournament? He won't pat your back and tell you the judges were biased, or that you just had an "off" day, or make any of a million excuses for you. He'll tell you the truth. Gently, but he'll tell you. "Well, you did poorly because you haven't been training hard. If you want to improve, here's what you need to work on". Competition, when fostered in a healthy, constructive environment, is a GOOD thing, because it is often what drives you to IMPROVE. I've experienced "bad" competition: the "best" people are treated well and those who aren't as good are scorned. I've experienced "good" competition: no one scorns you if you aren't as good as someone else, but they don't coddle you with false illusions either; they help you improve. I'm all for healthy competition.
post #5 of 8
Thread Starter 
Child Next Door (CND) Arms Race:
I purposely used the phrase Arms Race because the following situation. Imagine if Child X and Y applies to Top College and they can only accept one of the two. Both come from similar background and have similar good grades. But Child X takes part in a series of activities while Child Y does not. There is a very high probability that Child X would be accepted but not Child Y. Therefore, to combat this future Child Ys would do more activities which in turn would lead to future Child Xs adding more activities to their plate. The "Trickle Down" effect of this is that it forces the next Child Z, who is lower down the chain to also work harder to get into that good but not so top College.

My reference to competition was in relation to the workplace. It was not a comment on whether competition is always the best means of education. For example, Yale Law School does not rank its students and grade them on a pass/fail system.

In a best case scenario all students would be working hard and perhaps competiting to get good grades. But obviously that does not apply to all students and what may work for a class of motivated students may not work for another class of less motivated students. I was told that the skills required for a teacher in a top school is quite different as compared to a teacher in a school with struggling students.

I again purposely used the words pressure/demands rather than tests since they can mean quite different things. Although testing can be considered as placing pressure it is not the only thing. Even things such as music or art can add demands on the children.

Sports Analogy:
I know this was used as an analogy but I do not really think it works. Sports can be viewed in two different categories. Those seeking to actually compete while others who just want to have fun (or ensure some form of exercise so that they are healthy). There is only that many people who can get into the school team. There should also be another outlet for those who want to play the sport but not competitively. Unless one is going to be a professional sports person, or perhaps seeking to go to college based on a sports scholarship, I do not think the analogy really works.

My point I was trying to make is not so much that competition is the best means of education or that its opposite lack of competition is the worst means of education. Neither is it a suggestion that tests are the best means of education.

The reason why so much pressure/demands are placed on the child is because the actions of the Child Next Door (CND) makes it such that if your child wishes to have a better opportunity to get into a top college and top job, he would have to take on the burdens.
post #6 of 8
One possible solution to all this, and I know it's not practical to everyone but it's something, is the ide aof self-directed learning, or a montessori school.

I went to a montessori preschool and elementary school and by the time I got to a mainstream junior high, I was farther along than anyone else and continue to this day to maintain a thirst for new learning. There was no homework, I don't recall any standardized tests...I just got to do my thing and as a result, I could read before most public school kids (I was 3 or 4 when I started to want to read and write). Kids especially, but even adults, learn better when they WANT and CHOOSE to learn. And contrary to popular belief, most kids would make that choice. If left in a room full of books with no directive, you can bet that kid is going to be curious about the books.

I don't know. I feel like if we totally zap the wonder, curiosity, fun and novelty out of learning, then it will never happen.

And don't even get me started on the college admissions process (although mine was considerably different than most kids since I went into music and am a conservatory student. More competition with less BS.)
post #7 of 8
I have anecdotal experience!

I went to a k-8th grade school that had No Grades and No Standardized testing. Everyone was rewarded for a job well done and as I recall (it's been a bit) no real huge competitions.

I loved it.

8th grade my teachers were terrible and frankly I was tired after going to the same school for 9 years so I did terrible in all my classes (we did get reviewed, just not grades). I then went to a High School that DID grade and got straight A's (well except honors geometry, wow was that hard).

My younger brother didn't do as well, he needed more structure. Plus he had more trouble learning to read than I (we both have mild/moderate hearing loss). My parents ended up putting him in a more traditional school where he did better.

Not all kids learn the same. Some do better with competition, some don't.

Now in Japan (I talk about Japan so much because I studied it a lot more than the US) they are MAJORLY competitive through all grades and then college is a joke. I'm not sure how well it works, no one in High School in Japan has much of a life (to my knowledge). And a lot of them come here for college.
post #8 of 8
Honestly this whole competion thing in school makes me roll my eyes. I've never been a very competive person and had they tried it on me, I would have just shut down. (Just like I did in gym class, I just decided it wasn't worth trying because I wasn't the best in the class and that was how you were graded. The teacher finally caught on on that one though.) That being said, I have very high standards for myself that I expect for me to live up to. I aggressively pursued (although sometimes my spelling doesn't reflect it) good grades, not to show up the rest of the class but because I wanted to have the 100% or A at the top of my page.

And those standardized tests that are so popular as a way to measure learning, those things are the biggest joke on the planet. Heck even when I was in school, when test time came around all other learning was put on hold to make sure we would do good on the tests. And quite frankly I do believe it's more important that I know how to read than I know the answer to a question on a test that I will only forget after I've taken the test anyway.

And yes art and gym are important as is recess for young children, I don't know why anyone would think those could much less should be cut. And quite frankly in the case of gym and recess, hello we are a fat nation lets not discourage our children from getting out and doing something physical. The health problems alone that could arise from children not getting physical activity boggle the mind. And in the case of hyperactive children, letting them burn of some energy can only help their learning.

As a side note, as I get closer to thinking about actually having kids. The more the state of our school system worries me, so much so that even know I am looking into what it would take to homeschool a child. Something that I never though I'd have to think about. However I see my friends and families children going through school and being weighed down by too much work and yet still not learning anything, if that makes sense.
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