If any of you have children in or nearing high school, this book might be of interest to you. The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids, by Alexandra Robbins is a compelling, cautionary tale about how our competitive society is beginning to take a serious toll on our children. A professed overachiever herself (she looks barely 20-years-old and has already written four books), Robbins follows students from her alma mater, Walt Whitman High School in Betheseda, Maryland, through an entire school year. She interviewed kids from the junior, senior, and just-graduated classes and gives us telling details about each of their lives including the pressures they endure as they navigate through the college application process. Each chapter focuses on a specific issue, be it taking the SAT, choosing a college or the sleep deprivation of teens, through the prism of the student's lives.
It's a damning tale. From the College Board down through High School administrations, the teachers, parents and students themselves, everyone is cheating, cutting corners and inflating statistics to make themselves look like the best place to attend or the best student to accept into a college. We are making our children sick (rates of our teen suicides are higher than the supposedly high ones in Japan), putting pressures on them as early as pre-school, to insure that they get the best chance for the best life. And the parents seem the worst of the lot, pressuring kids to accomplish what they never did. Granted we are talking about the wealthier families here. And I'm sure there are many teens who do not subscribe to the college rat race, and get into excellent non-Ivy League colleges. But for the kids who aim for the heights, the academic pressure, parental expectations and their own intense drives to succeed make for an overwhelming and not-very-healthy experience.
Robbins has several prescriptions for lessening the pressures on these students, including getting rid of the SAT and instituting late-start times for high schools. But with most of the attention on education focused on No Child Left Behind, I have a feeling these will get scant attention. Nevertheless, this book was a very interesting read.