One thing I left out of my recent discussions of tween and teenage pressure is the rat race to get into college. I agree with those who note that in many places it is it is totally out of control. When my oldest was applying to college, I made it a point to stay away from all the other parents so that they wouldn't stress me out. (Luckily he himself managed to stay quite calm about the whole process). But some of the rat race pressures can be blamed on academic standards that are too low rather than too high--especially in elementary and middle school.
Poor academic standards in middle and elementary school mean that kids are ill-prepared for college-prep classes in high school. Many high school students, casualties of "balanced literacy," struggle with the heavy reading and writing loads of AP/college prep English or AP/college prep history. With a poor knowledge base in history and science, they may also struggle to take in and process the concepts and informational content of AP/college prep history or AP/college prep science courses. Finally, casualties of Reform Math and heterogeneous ability grouping will struggle with high school calculus. Many of these struggling students end up resorting to after-school tutoring, and/or try to compensate with a huge load of extra curricular activities.
Then there's the increasing competition for spots in top and middle-tier colleges. As far as Asian competitiveness in particular goes, the first Anonymous commenter on my earlier post makes a good point:
Black and Hispanic kids are being accepted to elite and competitive colleges with academic and extracurricular records far weaker than those of whites and, especially, Asians- which has made getting into such colleges a huge arms race for the latter groups.It's a vicious cycle: the more competitive Asian students become, the more they fulfill the stereotypes; the more they fulfill the stereotypes, the more they are discriminated against; the more they are discriminated against, the more competitive they may be motivated to become.
Also, as Anonymous notes, American-educated students in general are competing with growing numbers of wealthy, striving foreign students. While many come from China and are handicapped by language barriers, increasing numbers are coming from India as well, and these students, as I've noted earlier, often have a much better grasp of the English language than their American (and British) counterparts, not to mention a much better preparation in math.
So how do we make our American-educated kids less stressed out vis a vis this increasingly intimidating college prep and college admissions craziness? How about raising our academic standards, starting in elementary school, so that:
(1) students are fully prepared for college prep courses in high school.
(2) students from disadvantaged backgrounds have the same academic opportunities as everyone else (which, among other things, would obviate stereotype-reinforcing favoritism in college admissions).
(3) American-educated students are more competitive with students who were educated overseas.