In a conversation with a friend about the recent college admissions fiasco, we talked about perfectionism. The fear of not being good enough is pervasive in our community and has left our kids feeling stressed, anxious and depressed.* Our kids look great on paper, and they carry a hole in their hearts.
Success. In our single-minded pursuit of success aka college admission, we have hyper-focused on performance-based and external benchmarks like grades, test scores and awards. Instead of choosing classes and extracurricular activities based on their interests and strengths, our kids build a resumé and “[compromise] their mental and physical health in the pursuit of top grades.” Our collective obsession with the college admission process has reduced our children to constant doing, with little time for simply being. For over a decade the kids in our community have been telling us that in order to be fully human they need more time, more sleep, less homework.
In De-bunking College Admission Myths, Denise Pope, co-founder of Challenge Success summarizes the issue well: “The sole purpose of high school has become the four years that happen afterward. Lost is the engagement with learning, the ability to have any unscheduled, non-resume building time, and the 8 to 9 hours of sleep that kids truly need.” **
Autonomy. Competence. Belonging. Research on self-determination by Edward Deci and Richard M. Ryan shows that students' mental health is closely related to their sense of (1) autonomy or having control over their learning, (2) competence (an ability to handle challenging tasks) and (3) relatedness (feeling a sense of belonging).
Self-determination theory (SDT) supposes that human beings are curious about their environment and therefore, interested and engaged in learning. SDT researchers Christopher P. Niemiec and Richard M. Ryan describe how SDT relates to educational practice. They suggest that "intrinsic motivation and autonomous types of extrinsic motivation" foster optimal learning and student engagement. They also point out that "evidence suggests that teachers' support of students' basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness facilitates students' autonomous self-regulation for learning, academic performance, and well-being."
Recent Illinois Youth Survey (IYS) 2018 data for DuPage County, Illinois *** illustrate that many of our students have little sense of autonomy, belonging and are only minimally engaged in their learning.
In gauging meaningful participation/engagement and caring adults the IYS asked 8th, 10th and 12th grade students “how true” the following statements were. Response options included: (1) not true at all, (2) a little true, (3) pretty much true, (4) very much true.
The percentages below reflect the number of students in DuPage County who responded to the statements with not true at all or a little true.
At school, I do interesting activities: 44% (8th) 41% (10th) 43% (12th) of students did not think they did interesting activities. (Note: 8th grade response shows an increase of 7% from 37% in IYS 2016)
At school, I help decide things like class activities or rules: 70% (8th) and 71% (10th & 12th) of students reported that they did not help decide class activities or rules. (Note: 8th grade response increased 7% from 63% in IYS 2016)
At school, I do things that make a difference: 60% (8th) 65% (10th) 61% (12th) of students reported that they did not do things that make a difference. (Note: 8th grade response increased 6 % from 54% in IYS 2016)
Caring Adults. In addition to student reports of not participating meaningfully in school, over a quarter of students, do not feel seen by an adult at their school: 26% (8th), 29% (10th) and 28% (12th) of students reported that it is not at all true or a little true that there is a teacher/other adult at [their] school who notices when I am not there.
Furthermore, 32% (8th) 38% (10th) 37% (12th) of students reported that it was not true at all or a little true that at school, there is a teacher/other adult notices if I have trouble learning something.