I recently saw an interview with Matt Stone, one of the creators of the adult cartoon South Park. He was describing his experience in middle school and there was this line I just can’t seem to get out of my head.
“I remember being in 6th grade and I had to take the math test to get into honors math in the 7th grade. And they’re, like, ‘Don’t screw this up. Because if you screw this up, you won’t get into honors math in 7th grade. And of course, if you don’t get into honors math in 7th grade, you won’t get into honors math in 8th grade, and then not in 9th, and 11th and 12th grade and then you’ll just die poor and lonely.’”
Flashback….10 years ago, frantically awaiting the standardized test results. Would my daughter’s cognitive scores be within the required range? If she didn’t take honors math in 7th grade, would she be able to take AP Calculus in high school? And didn’t you need AP Calculus to get into a good university? She was 12 and I was worrying about college. I want to go back and slap my younger self in the face and say “Chill out! She is going to be fine.” But hindsight is 20/20 and I had gotten sucked into the hysteria of anxious parenting.
Let me bring you back to 1983 and a generation of laissez-faire parenting. I was not in honors math. I didn’t wear a helmet when I rode my bike or a seatbelt in the car. On nights when my parents worked late, we ate Stouffer’s mac and cheese (still the best) and there was no such thing as travel sports. Yet, here I am, I survived.
I got a call from a friend the other day. She was a complete wreck. Her daughter had gotten an 82 on her biology test. She wanted advice on what to do. Should she meet with the teacher? Ask for extra credit? Start looking for a tutor? This would ruin the GPA her daughter worked so hard to maintain. I told her to take a deep breath. Of course, we want our kids to do well in school, but can their education be measured on grades alone? Anybody can memorize and regurgitate facts but are they actually understanding the material? This doesn’t seem to matter much anymore. It has become all about getting into the best college. No wonder so many kids and parents are stressed out.
I have seen my kids exhausted and anxious trying to keep up with schoolwork, volunteering, and participating in as many extracurricular activities as possible for their college applications.
When I was in high school you joined a club because you were interested and excited to be part of it. My daughter loves art. It helps clear her mind and alleviate stress. It’s what she does when she has free time, which is not too often. I asked her why she had decided not to take art in high school. She told me she couldn’t waste a class on art because she needed to have 4 years of math, English, history and a foreign language on her transcript in order to get into a competitive college.
This pressure to excel is affecting our kid’s mental and physical well-being. Instead of taking a class that they feel passionate about they feel they need to load up on AP courses. My daughter told me that a friend of hers was taking five AP classes next semester and she was second guessing herself because she was only taking three.
What is up with the inflated GPAs? Can someone really have a 4.7? How is that even a thing?
Don’t even get me started on the SATs and ACTs. The end-all be-all to being accepted into a prestigious university. Preparing for these tests is no longer about doing well in school or taking a prep class. There are private SAT/ACT tutors as well as companies that help you find your “best fit” college based on personality tests and offer essay assistance. Full disclosure, I can’t be a hypocrite, I have used some of these services as well.
The irony of my particular story is that my daughter did get into honors math in 7th grade which ultimately allowed her to test out of algebra 1 in high school and take geometry, precalculus and calculus. However, when she took the SAT junior year, her lowest scores were in math. When the school counselor reviewed her results, she explained the areas she struggled with were algebra 1 related questions. Since she had not taken algebra 1 since the 8th grade, she had forgotten a good amount of it. The counselor recommended she find an algebra 1 tutor!
By no means am I giving advice on whether a student should take honors math or any honors classes for that matter. I just wish there was more time for my kids to do the things they enjoy. I wish they weren’t so stressed out all the time and under so much pressure. Life is short and before they know it, they will be grown-ups and we all know that isn’t much fun. Yes, I want them to get good grades and succeed in life. But I also want them to be happy. One of my resolutions this year is to find the time to add some fun in our household even if it means getting an 82 on a test.