Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 13, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE PUSH....As long as we're on the subject of parents, Diane Patterson over at Nobody Knows Anything has a long, but typically readable and compelling post about schools and parenting in the 21st century.

She starts off with an excerpt from School of Dreams: Making the Grade at a Top American High School, by Edward Humes (reviewed here):

School of Dreams is the story of kids at Whitney High School in Cerritos, California (a suburb near Los Angeles) and their struggles to not only be high achievers but ridiculously high over-achievers so that they can get into the "right" college (Harvard, Stanford, Princeton) and then get the "right" job, et cetera. I'm only one chapter in and already I'm depressed out of my mind: is this what my kids have to look forward to? The title of Part I says it all: "Four is the Magic Number: Four Hours Sleep, Four Caff Lattes, 4.0."

Before you say, Well, it's always been like this... permit me to cut you off with No it hasn't. Thanks. I went to a top prep school in San Francisco, where I was ranked #1 in the class (though I wasn't valedictorian for some reason I can't figure out), took four or five AP tests and got 5 on all of them, and attended Stanford University. I know about being a high-achieving student. And there was no question of my sleeping only four hours a night.

I think about education and school a lot these days. It's a huge part of my children's future: how could I not?

Diane's question is one that niggles at me all the time. I don't quite have her academic pedigree, but I was a very good student and knew kids from around the country who were also very good students and school just wasn't like this 30 years ago. Even run-of-the-mill bright kids here in Irvine have a far more intense academic experience than I or my friends did, and that's on top of a mind boggling assortment of after school activities that keeps them on the run 24/7.

I can't explain it. Public schools, I hear incessantly, are failing, but aside from the 10% of schools in inner city hellholes, that really doesn't seem to be the case. My mother's high school a very good one in Los Angeles in the 40s didn't offer calculus. Everyone knew that was a college subject. By the 70s calculus, if not exactly universal, was commonly available to the brightest kids. Today, practically all suburban high schools have one or two full classes of calculus.

Diane has much more. Five hour kindergarten classes with only one short break. Homework for preschoolers. Wondering if your kid is backward if she's not reading by age three. The whole Push Mentality and the peer pressure that maintains it.

There are no answers here at Calpundit, and I know perfectly well that anecdotal stories about Palo Alto schools don't mean much about the general state of education in America. But still, something is screwy in the standard storyline about Education in America and I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe someday I'll figure it out.

Kevin Drum 9:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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