The Obsession With "Best"
(Posted by Valerie Strauss, guest blogger)
Now "they" have invaded summer school.
What was once a place for kids forced to take extra classes has become the cool place for those who want to keep studying--not necessarily out of love for it but so they can take even harder classes in the fall. Why? To boost their college applications, of course. Read all about it in reporter Ian Shapira's story in today's Post.
I will give up on my lonely notion that perhaps kids do not have to spend summer with every single minute planned and stuffed with as many activities as they have during the school year. (I won't say that many of us managed to grow up without jam-packed summers, and heaven forbid kids should have to learn how to entertain themselves sometimes.)
But the article pointed out this, too: Just when you think there is no real way for academic competitiveness to increase, you learn you are wrong. If a kid didn't go to the right nursery school to get them into the Ivy League, then certainly sweating it out in accelerated classes in the heat of summer will do it for them.
There is, to be sure, something wonderful about young people who want--or are pushed by their parents' ambitions--to work excrutiatingly hard to improve themselves. But it is worth asking what they are working toward and under what assumptions they are laboring.
I heard a group of teenager boys talking the other day about college, and they turned to a girl to ask her about Harvard University, she apparently seen as an expert because two family members had gone. "Well, it's the best school in the country," she started.
Well, actually, for lots of kids--in fact most--it probably isn't. And the notion that there is a "best" of pretty much anything can be corroding to young people.
As an education reporter, I get asked a lot about what I think the "best" schools are, or whether private schools are better than public. Clearly some schools do better at educating students than others, but, boring as it sounds, there is no "best" for everyone, and perhaps for anyone. There are lots of great schools of all types, and, more to the point, kids are different and need different things. The idea that everybody who isn't going to Harvard has already missed "the best" boat is scary.
This Ivy League obsession seems to me bigger here in the Washington D.C. area--which boasts the most highly educated population of any metropolitan region of the country--but perhaps it is as suffocating in other places. Anybody out there want to tell us?
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