behavior · children · learning · school

When the future becomes detrimentally more important than the present

I read this article in the New York Times a couple of days ago, and it really bothered me:

Since second grade, Nathaly has taken advantage of a voluntary integration program here, leaving her home in one of the city’s poorer sections before 6:30 a.m. and riding a bus over an hour to Newton, a well-to-do suburb with top-quality schools. Some nights, she has so many activities that she does not get home until 10 p.m.; often she’s up past midnight studying.

“Nathaly gets so mad if she doesn’t make the honor roll,” says Stephanie Serrata, a classmate.

Last Wednesday, Nathaly did it again, with 5 A’s and 2 B’s for the first marking period.

via Let’s Get Ready Offers Help for College Admissions – NYTimes.com.

At first I couldn’t figure out why; it was a story essentially about all the great programs that our K-12 education system has for getting help and getting ahead in school and prepping to apply for prestigious colleges. Then, when I looked closer at the lead picture of the article it hit me:

Nathaly Lopera in her Passport class, one of several programs she attends to help her get into college. Article by MICHAEL WINERIP, New York Times, Nov 20th, 2011

This 17 year old girl is yawning in her class, and it’s not from boredom or because she stayed up too late the night before chatting with her friends online. It’s because she is working so hard to get into college she isn’t getting enough sleep. Her health is suffering for a future prospect of getting into a “good” secondary education facility.

I find this idea horrible. Yes, it’s great that all these programs exist for kids to get help in applying to college and help in school. I was a tutor in high school, and I took SAT-prep courses which helped me immensely. I applaud this girl’s dedication to her education and her future. I absolutely appreciate the idea of staying up late to study for finals every once in awhile. However, constant sleep deprivation is REALLY dangerous, both in the immediate present (poorer performance, slowed reaction times) and in the future (delayed physical and mental growth). Being sleepy is just as dangerous and being drunk behind the wheel of a car.

I truly believe that this push to get kids into a “good” school, focusing on the future, is a really bad idea.

There was the uproar earlier this year about the self-described “Tiger Mom” and her pride in how hard she pushed her kids. Again, while I appreciate how much she is dedicated to her daughters’ success, there have been numerous studies that show kids do just as well without the focused drilling by their parents. An extra push every now and then, and support driving them to piano lessons or football games? Absolutely! But a parent does not need to be a drill sergeant, nor does the kid need to be literally killing themselves to get into a decent college. A documentary came out in April discussing the phenomenon, called The Race To Nowhere, which does a really nice job of capturing how a lot of this college-prep focus is about as useful as a chicken running around with their head cut off.

I understand this kind of drive starts as early as preschool in many communities, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy into it! Yes, of course I want my future children to get a good college education. Yes, I want them to receive quality primary education. But focusing so much on the future is absolutely detrimental to the health of the child and to the parent.

I would love to hear back from people who have either dropped out of this school rat race to focus more on developing and spending time with their child now, or from people who feel this kind of dedication is essential and worth the health risks.

education · learning

The Poor Quality of an Undergraduate Education – NYTimes.com

Academic procession at the University of Cante...
Is your college degree really worth it? Image via Wikipedia

This is a great Op-Ed piece from the New York Times. More and more people are getting brave enough to come out and say that a college education, as it currently exists, is often NOT worth it for students.

In a typical semester, for instance, 32 percent of the students did not take a single course with more than 40 pages of reading per week, and 50 percent did not take any course requiring more than 20 pages of writing over the semester. The average student spent only about 12 to 13 hours per week studying — about half the time a full-time college student in 1960 spent studying, according to the labor economists Philip S. Babcock and Mindy S. Marks.

Not surprisingly, a large number of the students showed no significant progress on tests of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing that were administered when they began college and then again at the ends of their sophomore and senior years. If the test that we used, the Collegiate Learning Assessment, were scaled on a traditional 0-to-100 point range, 45 percent of the students would not have demonstrated gains of even one point over the first two years of college, and 36 percent would not have shown such gains over four years of college.

Why is the overall quality of undergraduate learning so poor?

While some colleges are starved for resources, for many others it’s not for lack of money. Even at those colleges where for the past several decades tuition has far outpaced the rate of inflation, students are taught by fewer full-time tenured faculty members while being looked after by a greatly expanded number of counselors who serve an array of social and personal needs. At the same time, many schools are investing in deluxe dormitory rooms, elaborate student centers and expensive gyms. Simply put: academic investments are a lower priority.

more via The Poor Quality of an Undergraduate Education – NYTimes.com.

I LOVE learning and have seriously considered continuing my graduate studies beyond my MA. But after looking at the hard facts of cost vs. time investment vs. returns, even at the undergraduate level, I have unfortunately determined that it’s just not a good investment, especially for a non-engineering or similar degree.

Some students swear it’s worth it, and while I’m glad I have my BA and (almost) MA, I know enough people who are doing fine without theirs that I wonder if those of us with a BA aren’t slightly brainwashed, or simply trying to convince ourselves it’s worth it because we put so much time and money (and for some of us sincere effort) into getting it.

What has your experience been? For those who want or have a career outside of a University, what has your experience been and what kind of education did you WISH you had received? I, for example, had wished they had required more Science and Math as an undergrad (or high school), even for a social science major like me. It was all stuff I ended up needing for my MA and wishing I’d studied it earlier in my academic career.