Should we change the American school system?

 

NINA HUFFMAN

Lifestyle and Online Editor

Though many will say that the 21st century is a time of ingenuity and growth, for adolescents it is horrible. We have raised kids to think they must achieve academic perfection and that they will always have to be something they are not. Kids have grown up in a way where everyday is riddled with stress and anxiety. Society has taught them to develop unhealthy habits that deprive themselves of basic needs to meet unrealistic expectations. We have ruined the youngest generation of human beings and created miserable robots.

Adolescents in America, and possibly other countries, are expected to do more than should be asked of them. Since elementary school, teachers, parents, and society have taught kids that good grades are the key to living a happy life, because good grades mean success, and success means happiness. And as we more advise academic success, the stakes get higher. Honors and AP classes are introduced, extracurriculars and community service hours are encouraged, and the battle for the highest GPA is the only one worth fighting. Somewhere in the midst of all this, it seems as though the community has forgotten to teach kids how to succeed in a way that benefits their well being, not their GPA.

As the years have gone by, society has shaped our schooling system to “ensure” students have perfect test scores, but what they have really created is a school system where students are sleep deprived, anxious, depressed and overworked.

The average time schools starts in America is 8:03 am. For the “teen brain”, this means 6:03 am. This is because (according to slate.com), teens are wired to stay up late, and wake up late.

As puberty begins, bedtimes and waking times get later,” said Russell Foster, professor of Circadian Neuroscience, chair of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology, and director of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, University of Oxford. “This trend continues until 19.5 years in women and 21 in men. Then it reverses. At 55 we wake at about the time we woke prior to puberty. On average this is two hours earlier than adolescents. This means that for a teenager, a 7am alarm call is the equivalent of a 5am start for people in their 50s.”

Along with unintentional sleep deprivation, the American schooling system has also indirectly influenced serious and unaddressed mental health issues amongst teens. Studies performed in 2000 showed that the average teen experiences more anxiety than that of a child psychiatric patient in the 1950’s (according to the American Psychological Association). As if extreme anxiety was not enough, the average teen experiences more stress day-to-day than the average adult (according to the American Psychological Association).

Teens report that their stress level during the school year far exceeds what they believe to be healthy (5.8 versus 3.9 on a 10-point scale) and tops adults’ average reported stress levels (5.8 for teens versus 5.1 for adults),” said the American Psychological Association. “Even during the summer teens reported their stress during the past month at levels higher than what they believe is healthy (4.6 versus 3.9 on a 10-point scale). Many teens also report feeling overwhelmed (31 percent) and depressed or sad (30 percent) as a result of stress. More than one-third of teens report fatigue or feeling tired (36 percent) and nearly one-quarter of teens (23 percent) report skipping a meal due to stress.”

While teachers and school administrators may argue that the stress teens experience is only the stress that is brought upon by themselves, the teens would not be stressed out if society and American schooling had not had programed them to stress about their school work. If kids were raised in a society where going to prestigious schools and getting good grades did not mean more success and by result more happiness, do you think teens would inflict this much over school school everyday? Yes, while the stress teens experience day-to-day because of school is primarily self induced, teens cannot help themselves from stressing because not only are they wired, as humans, to stress, but they are taught to stress.

How could the American schooling system not only affect their mental health, but also their performance in school? In America, the average teen will spend 31.2 hours in school per week, whether it be sitting in a classroom or practicing for their school’s sports team. And in addition to the 31.2 hours kids are working in school, the are sent home with an average of 3.5 hours of homework per night, that is an additional 17.5 hours of work a week. This means, the average high schooler in America is working, on average, 48.7 hours a week. Studies performed by the University of Washington, the University of Virginia, and Temple University suggest that when kids begin to work more that 20 hours a week, their grades begin to drop. Overworked teens mean poor performance. Shocking… or is it?

How does America perform compared to the other industrialized countries in the world? Our test scores are significantly average as we are ranked as the 17th best country for education.

What make the number one country’s education system better than America’s? Finland, the number one country for education, uses the same curriculum for all students, only gives light homework loads, does not have classes for gifted students, uses little standardized testing, and has an all-embracing preschool program that emphasizes self-reflection and socializing, not academics. Children also do not start school until age 7, classes begin anywhere from 9am to 9:45am and college is free.

Most schools in Europe have opted against excess standardized testing, America continues to use standardized testing as a way for teachers and schools to evaluate how their students performing. While this sounds good in theory, with so many different test score, kids who perform slightly above average think they are special. The kids and their community who think they are special, will then expect them to perform above their capabilities.

If it is basic knowledge that when kids are healthier and happier, they will perform better, why are we not raising and teaching kids to do what is right for their mental health and rather than influencing them to do what will benefit their report card?

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