Last week, I read the book Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids by Alexandra Robbins. The author follows eight high schoolers over a course of a few weeks and tells the story of their achievements, struggles, aspirations, and more. These kids, belonging to a high performing school in Maryland, struggle to cope with the stress of school, homework, extracurricular activities, and peer and parental pressure, primarily to build a resume that would help them get into prestigious universities. It’s a sad commentary on the state of our education system and the hypercompetitive admissions process that overemphasizes the SAT scores, GPAs, and the amount of extracurricular activities. We can’t really blame the universities because there has to be some mechanism for selecting incoming students. Many people blame the US News college rankings for this mad rush to get into a top-ranked college without realizing that it might not be the best fit for a kid.
I understand this struggle because I’ve been part of a similar experience in India. India has a system of entrance exams whrein the kids’ physics, chemistry, biology, and math skills are tested. Any extra-curricular activities are not taken into account that leads to engineers and doctors who are brilliant but not innovators or sportspersons or community servers.
There are many kids driven by an immense desire to succeed in every field and eventually burn out. They sacrifice their childhood to get accepted to a selective university. Research has shown that a large majority is depressed and many attempt suicide. Even if they succeed, they are not happy. Because achievement doesn’t always correlate to happiness.
Stanford School of Education professor and psychologist, William Damon says today’s young people miss a sense of purpose, a feeling of meaningful existence that should be our main concern (full report here: Getting Off The Treadmill).
I don’t know how to make my kids’ lives meaningful without getting into this race, but I’ll be thinking about it. A lot.