Nearly eight years ago, I wrote a story about the increasing stress on public school students. It was largely anecdotal; while I was able to find studies showing that college students were under more stress including one that noted a doubling of the number of students being treated for depression between 1989 and 2001 at one Midwestern university there was nothing quantitative about K-12 students.
But maybe this qualifies: On exam days at the Rockingham County (N.C.) Schools, a largely rural district of 7,500 students near Greensboro, school staff had to throw out as many as 20 exam booklets because students vomited on them.
Twenty booklets in a district of less than 8,000 students — is that significant? I don’t know, but it sounded like a lot to me.
Now comes an article in the New York Times, also about college students, that again suggests student stress is rising. For example, the percentage of students who described their emotional health as “above average” in a comprehensive 2010 survey was 52 percent, down from 64 percent in 1985. The survey, titled The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010, also found that the percentage of freshmen who had felt “frequently overwhelmed” their senior year of high school increased to 29 percent from 27 percent the previous year.
This trend is surely related to the struggling economy and the lack of available jobs. But might the increasing stress also be due, in part, to our relentless drive for higher student achievement? High academic achievement is great, of course, but are we pushing this objective to the detriment of other, “softer” goals we have for our students, such as growing up emotionally stabile, learning how to be good citizens, and developing a love of learning?
In a few months, ASBJ readers will receive one very pointed answer from education researcher and critic Alfie Kohn. The title of Kohn’s April story? “Feel Bad Education.”
Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor