The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, a group of doctors, recently recommended screening children as young as eight for major depressive disorder (MDD). How do eight-year-olds wind up depressed? Depression they say could show up with functional impairments in school performance. Could it be in part because this is the age of the super student?
Newsweek reports, As Teen Loneliness Rates Soar, Schools May Be Making It Worse, Scientists Say. They touch upon No Child Left Behind but fail to explore specifics. Instead, they lay out frightening statistics and point to school closures during Covid.
Then they discuss how Tacoma school teachers teach social-emotional learning skills, but this is about changing students. While some of these changes might be helpful, they don’t discuss other adjustments to the school structure that could be student-friendly and relieve stress.
Some students experiencing anxiety may need counselors and teachers to help them through their storms or assistance from licensed social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists outside of school.
Others might need to decompress from the high expectations to make them super students. Americans could push back on the harmful school privatization and profit-making practices they’ve allowed to take over schools throughout the years.
Here’s what they’d address:
Lowering class sizes, including bringing back homerooms, would mean teachers could better understand their students, and students would build trust to talk with teachers.
Every student should know a teacher or school staff member who will help them with their life and school problems and can connect them with more help in the community if necessary.
Early Childhood Pressure
Bring back play to kindergarten! The push to make kindergartners read and write before the first grade is almost universally accepted, with few considering the added stress students face or whether it’s developmentally inappropriate. Don’t set children up to hate reading.
It starts as soon as kindergarten. It turns play into competitive sport. It turns the joy of learning into a struggle to excel.
High school Advanced Placement
Parents might worry about what their high school student misses if they do not sign up for AP classes (as many as possible) in high school, college-level work now normalized by the College Board, a nonprofit whose 2021 investment gains were $242,428,000.
Why are Americans still held hostage by the College Board? Isn’t it time to consider whether AP classes should continue driving high school academics?
High school students might find their strengths if given more and better learning options without the high-stressed standardized push for AP.
Why must high school students do college?
High Stakes Standardized Tests
Students could hardly recover from the Covid losses before corporate school reformers insisted they be tested. Many raised questions about these tests during the pandemic. But for years, studies have looked at the stress they cause, including the rise of cortisol levels in poor students. But in the end, they could (would) not give such testing up.
A 2019 study found that students from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, facing high poverty and crime, had more significant changes in the stress hormone before testing, affecting boys’ scores the most and creating stress bias.
Such assessment fails to address the needs of children, especially those with disabilities, twice-exceptional, or gifted students. It looks at students as data points and fails to care about who they are as individuals with hopes, dreams, and purpose.
And there are more of these assessments with social-emotional learning, which raises added privacy issues.
These tests have harmed public schools and teachers. How many students have unmeasured strengths and look like failures because they don’t score well on a test?
Watch as these tests increasingly move online, where student information is collected nonstop.
Many students still spend hours every night with homework, but most parents and teachers understand it could be reduced or eliminated. (See Alfie Kohn’s The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing), yet children, even young children, carry heavy backpacks back and forth from school. Why?
Middle School Career Choice
Should middle schoolers have to select a career? One of the ways they do this is through the online program Naviance, which collects information and may track students from a young age.
During pre-adolescence, children rapidly change physically and emotionally. The last thing they need is to be forced to make such a serious life decision, but corporations want a worker pipeline.
Nurture interests, but recognize that there’s still no consensus about whether high school students should make such decisions let alone middle schoolers.
Many subjects like the arts, social studies, civics, science, and more are given little attention or are missing from the curriculum. These subjects students enjoy, and they help them like school. How much do students miss when they don’t have access to a well-rounded curriculum?
They may also help them with their emotional problems.
Our schools are where students of every age and background come together. Children with disabilities especially wish to fit in with their peers and to be validated as human beings who are loved and cared for.
Public schools should provide opportunities for students to interact and learn about differences and similarities. Instead, they’ve removed these chances for socialization, like eliminating recess.
So, why are 8-year-olds and teens depressed? Why is there so much anxiety? School pressure for the above reasons could be at least part of the reason, including focusing on making super students driven by corporate school reformers.
Adjustments to the public school structure might alleviate the stress children experience and improve their lives.
So timely! Tomorrow I’ll be teaching a class of undergrad education students about supporting their students’ mental health. I’ll start out with this article, and if they say anything interesting, I’ll pass it on.
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks, Carrie. Comments like this keep me writing. Good luck!
Sheila Resseger says
“Why must high school students do college?” Why indeed. I am tutoring a high school sophomore who is taking World History AP (unaffectionately known as WHAP). I have a Masters Degree and 25 years of teaching experience (though not in history), and I consider myself an advanced reader. The textbook throws me for a loop. The pace of topics is dizzying. The short answer questions and essay prompts are mind-boggling. What is the point, except to score high enough on the AP exam and possibly be able to skip a course in college? Why not take the course in college by a professor? What is the point? And did I mention, every assignment is graded to the nth degree and will factor in to the student’s high school transcript. Learning is a process. Why does everything have to be given a grade set in stone? Got stress?
Nancy Bailey says
You and I have discussed this, Sheila, so I’m glad you’re sharing it. It’s unbelievable and so unnecessary. Every stage is pushed to the limits. What joy do students find in their classes and studies? I know that challenging work is important but you and I both understand what this is really about. Thank you. Your sophomore student is lucky to have you as a tutor!
Susan Norwood says
Smaller classes would help a lot. I am an urban high school teacher in a Southern, red state. I currently have 187 students on my roster. We are supposed to have a state cap of 180, but that is routinely overlooked. I can’t even remember this many kids’ names- especially when they don’t even look up when I call roll. They are glued to their cell phones. Since the beginning of the school year, I’ve had around 250 students come through my classroom doors. How does anyone expect us to form bonds with this large number of students? We have a teacher shortage at my school, so this situation isn’t getting any better. I wonder how many parents and community members know how many kids a high school teacher has.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Susan. Unbelievable! I appreciate your clear description of what high school teachers face. I would add that this is a safety issue. How many students feel like no one cares? I don’t know how you do it.
Paul Bonner says
One of the greatest sins of the Standards movement was the resulting treatment of students who were doing fine in school before US News and World Report Colleges ratings and AP exams went nuclear. I was once in a staff meeting where our principal basically said none of us would like what middle schoolers are now being asked to do. I have witnessed too many cases where high achieving students are struggling because our curricular demands reinforce the self concept that they are never good enough. Education policy makers don’t seem to understand, or care, about the damage that these practices have done to students. Voltaire warned us, perfection has become the enemy of the good.
Nancy Bailey says
Absolutely! As a special educator, I’d say too that most children have been denied individualized/small group instruction, due to the push for inclusion, politically to save money. All of these expectations are used to disparage public schools and teachers.