Do We Push #Children Too Hard Sometimes in School?

When is too much of a good thing a bad thing?

As I write this on a Sunday following a big dinner, my first thought related to the title of this post was my "yes" last night to both an after dinner drink and yummy desert. They both seemed like a good idea at the time but...

Along the lines of too much of a good thing, consider clicking on the following link to a Wall Street Journal article titled, Solutions For Stressed-Out High Schoolers .

In the piece, Nikhil Goyal (more about him later) discusses how some top performing public school districts are starting to cut down on AP classes, weekend homework and pushing back school starting times.

As some might know, I have been quite involved in education and even co-founded a top performing public charter school, Boston Preparatory Academy . At Boston Prep, we believe in academic rigor, a structured environment and longer school days, and like many schools who put a strong emphasis on a sound college preparatory curriculum, our approach has shown strong results. 100% of our high school graduates have been accepted to 4-year colleges and some have been granted full scholarships to top schools such as Stanford and Williams.

This said, just as I sometimes think that early age athletics has gone a little too far (4th grade travel soccer games starting at 7:30am on Sunday mornings with multiple late night practices a week, etc.), has the Tiger Mom approach to academics gone too far?

If you Google " Stressed Out High School Students ", you might be surprised to find a long list of articles on the subject from well regarded publications such as The Atlantic and Forbes. In addition, you will see concerning research studies by top academics with quotes such as the following:

"There is growing awareness that many [high school students]... experience high levels of chronic stress... that... impedes their abilities to succeed academically, compromises their mental health functioning, and fosters risk[y] behavior."

"Furthermore, this chronic stress appears to persist into the college years."


“We are concerned that students in... high pressure high schools can get burned out even before they reach college."

I am sure that those of you reading this want to give your children as many advantages in life as possible and encourage them to strive for excellence. But do we sometimes take it too far and put too much pressure on our little ones?

I know that I am guilty of this from time to time.

The author of the WSJ article that I mentioned at the start of this post, Nikhil Goyal, wrote his first thoughts on this subject as a high school student. Since then, he has gone on to write for the New York Times and speak at the Clinton Global Initiative, Google, Stanford and the University of Cambridge.

Among his many thought provoking comments, Nikhil stated the following in his first op-ed that ran in the Huffington Post :

"President Bush passed No Child Left Behind and President Obama passed Race to the Top, infatuating our schools with a culture of fill in the bubble tests and drill-and-kill teaching methods. Schools were transformed into test-preparation factories and the process of memorization and regurgitation hijacked classroom learning."

In reading this, don't get me wrong.

I am all for high standards and want certainly want my children to have the opportunity attend top schools.

As the WSJ article pointed out, though, top universities are taking notice. In a recent report by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which was endorsed by every Ivy League admissions dean, more than 80 college presidents, deans, professors concluded that schools must “deflate undue academic performance pressure.”

The paper makes the following recommendations:

  • Discouraging students from overloading on AP or International Baccalaureate classes
  • Asking candidates for admission to describe only two or three meaningful extracurricular activities on their applications, to show that the colleges value quality over quantity
  • Evaluating whether the SAT and ACT standardized tests should be optional
  • When balancing high academic rigor that can increase stress, with creative learning environments that can be more relaxing and nurturing, I could not think of a better quote to ponder than one that Nikhil Goyal wrote when he was only 16:

    "We continue to toil in a 19th century factory-based model of education, stressing conformity and standardization. This is all true even though globalization has transformed the world we live in, flipping the status quo of the labor market upside down. The education system has miserably failed in creating students that have the dexterity to think creatively and critically, work collaboratively, and communicate their thoughts."

    "Let's raise kids to dream big and think different."

    So, as we all strive to give all we can to our children, should we step back and ask ourselves if sometimes too much is too much?