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Dec. 16, 2010

Get ready, get set, get stressed

by Srividya Murthy, Print Managing News Editor and Helen Bowers, Print Managing Entertainment Editor
Where only first names appear, names have been changed to protect the identity of sources.

The light darkens in the auditorium as students and teachers gather to watch their everyday lives projected on the screen. Teachers recognize the difficult job of teaching in a system focused on testing. Students recognize the stress of their common goal: admission into top colleges and an assurance of a successful life ahead.

On Dec. 2, the PTSA sponsored a screening of "Race to Nowhere," a documentary by Vicki Abeles highlighting the stress and intense competition that have become part of todayís education. After the screening, a panel talked about many controversial elements of the movie, from homework to time management. Most agreed that student stress is a story that must be told, although it is neither an easy nor simple problem to solve.

Struggling through schedules

The movie claims that the pressure leads students to take multiple AP classes and participate in extracurricular activities that leave them no extra time.

Assistant principal Suzanne Harvey recommends parents to collaborate with teachers and administrators to evaluate the balance of a studentís schedule. However, the choice is not always easy for students, according to Blair counselor Georgette Small. "A lot of kids want to take everything because it looks good for college," says Small. "Itís better to do a few things you really like rather than lots of things you donít really like."

Grades vs. morals

Even a third grade boy in the documentary feels the pressure of attending a prestigious university. He is asked why it is important to get good grades, and he replies: ĎTo get into a good college." The pressure to do well in school is starting earlier and earlier and it often drives kids to untruthful methods of getting their A.

Cheating on tests and assignments is becoming more and more common among teenagers as the pressure to do well intensifies. Adam, a sophomore, says that he is more concerned with maintaining good grades than with the potential repercussions of cheating. "[I] would rather cheat than get a bad grade," says Adam.

Janette, also a sophomore, says that, "I need a good GPA to get into college, and I do not have time to study because I am too busy doing homework."

Social Studies teacher George Vlasits feels that the pressure put on students is completely misdirected. Vlasits says that students today are pressured to get good grades so that they can get into college, where they are pressured to get good grades so that they can get high paying jobs. Vlasits contends that this represents the sorry state of American ethics.

"We are not an intellectual society," he says. And according to Vlasits, the education system is not in place to educate children so they can pursue a career that sparks their enthusiasm and gives back to the community, but they are pressured to have a high paying job and a comfortable lifestyle when they grow up.

Searching for a solution

The main solution offered in "Race to Nowhere" is for teachers to reduce the amount of homework they assign, but many are not satisfied with that solution. Juniors Shayna Soloman and Leon Mait agree that one of the most disappointing elements in the movie was that the film offered no concrete solutions.

Vlasits is not discouraged by the lack of answers in this film. He says that the documentary does a good job of creating awareness of student stress. The lack of solutions also leaves viewers to develop their own theories. Indeed, Vlasits believes that for education reform to take place we must reject standardized testing and provide adequate health care for all children. Vlasits contends that children must be healthy in order to go to school, and that success shouldnít be measured on the studentís ability to take a test.

The documentary describes standardized testing as an inaccurate measure of student success, because it judges students based on a "one size fits all" system, in spite of the growing diversity in Americaís school systems.



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