by Alexandra Robbins 

    Much of the information below is either a direct or indirect quote.  Sheila's comments are pretty obvious.

    "You can't just be the smartest.  You have to be the most athletic, you have to be able to have the most fun, you have to be the prettiest, the best-dressed, the nicest, the most wanted.  You have to constantly be out on the town partying, and then you have to get straight As. And most of all, you have to appear to be happy."  CJ, age 17.

    Journalist Alexandra Robbins explores how our high-stakes educational culture has spiraled out of control in this book.  She follows several students from high performing high schools across the country, recounts their engaging (and sometimes harrowing) stories, and tackles some of the issues (i.e., black market for study drugs, cutthroat college admissions) that drive students to depression.

    The pressure these students are under (from parents, peers, from within) is compelling and scary.  Robbins does a great job of presenting the lives of the students, while unraveling the issues that drive them to extremes.

    She wraps up 400 pages of exquisite investigative journalism with solid and manageable recommendations for what school can do:

    *  Delay High School Start Times - save kids from disastrous health effects caused by sleep deprivation

    * Drop Class Rank - class rank encourages cutthroat competition, cheating and choosing classes based on GPA rather than interest, not to mention pitting students against one another

    *  De-emphasize Testing - (there are mountains of books and articles written on this and Souder's personal philosophy is aligned with those who want to see less emphasis on what a student can bubble in on an early Saturday morning so I will not say more)

    * Provide Less Competitive Alternatives - offer intramural/recreational sports, after school classes that are not competitive, etc.  Provide alternatives for those who are "less than expert" to participate and engage

    * Assign - and Enforce - Coordinated Departmental Project and Test Days - no student should have to take four exams on a day, especially if they are AP US History, Chemistry, Pre-Calculus and AP English.  This would require a staff calendar and time to plan effectively.  However, a few hours of teacher planning would save countless  hours of student anxiety and exhaustion. 

    * Limit AP Classes - by limiting the number of APs students can take in a given year, and publicizing that on the School Profile, students won't feel the need to take every AP in order to outdo their classmates, or impress the colleges

    She then provides ideas for What Students and Parents Can Do.  I like these two student ones a lot so I am going to list them here:

    * Take a Year Off
    * Try an "Unrewarding" activity that you aren't good at but enjoy.  Learn something new for the sake of learning, not achieving greatness

    Many of the recommendations Robbins makes are aligned with those of Denise Pope in her book, Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids.  You should check that one out too, and it is also reviewed on my website.

    At Drake, with some time and coordination, we could put many of the practices suggested by Robbins and Pope into action for ZERO DOLLARS.  Many of these suggestions are absolutely free, and they will free our students from a variety of anxiety and health concerns.  As a parent, you should DEMAND that we implement these - the sooner the better.

    Posted by Sheila Souder on 03/28/2016