Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Yet another reason for watering down academics: the New York publishing bubble

One reason for the assumption that most tween/teenage stress is due to crushing academics, I've realized, is less related to educational punditry than it is to New York publishing.

New York City dominates the world of publishing, and New York publishing, in turn, is dominated by high-powered New Yorkers with high-powered lives. Beyond the workplace, these high-powered lives revolve around high-powered parenting, high-powered kids, and stiff competition for top schools--starting, infamously, in those highly selective Manhattan and Brooklyn preschools we keep hearing about. The books that resonate with the agents, editors, publishers, and well-connected writers that populate this world are books about how high-powered and competitive everything is.

However skewed these writers, agents, editors and publishers are by their peculiar sociological bubble, their judgments about what to write, promote, and publish make a certain amount of business sense. Even if other places or sectors of society are far less academically driven, who is most likely to buy trade books about parenting or education? Parents who hail from similarly high-powered, competitive environments, or parents whose top priorities or worries are issues other than academic competition?

Of course, there are plenty of places outside New York City that are dominated by high-powered parents and high-powered kids. These include Westchester County, the Philadelphia Main Line and Montgomery County Maryland--areas with which I have some familiarity--as well as Silicon Valley, Greater Boston, and the environs of Princeton, New Jersey. In all these places, kids--whether or not they are actually challenged academically--are famously stressed out by the intense competition for the "best" high schools and colleges. But these places are hardly representative of most neighborhoods and school districts.

The result of the high-powered publishing and readership bias is a plethora of bestsellers about how Einstein Never Used Flashcards, The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids, and Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation.

The problem with these books is that they generally don't acknowledge their skewed demographics. Instead, they suggest that the problem is the same everywhere in America: that kids are being overly pressured academically; that teenage stress, in general, is due primarily to grueling academics; and that the remedy, everywhere, is to water down the academics even more than they already are in most schools. These books overlook the reality that most students are academically ill-prepared and under-challenged, and that the reasons for much of today's childhood anxiety and depression have less to do with from high-powered academics than with low-powered academics and economic, domestic, and social pressures.

And they overlook the reality that today's social pressures stem not just from the high-powered pressures of social media and social media addiction, but from the toxic social pressures that creep into schools that water down academics with socio-emotional processing activities and under-supervised group activities.


Anonymous said...

What's interesting though is that a number of these high powered private schools that are so well publicized are the very schools that love reform Math curricula and other watered down curricula. So these schools create pressures for kids in the high school years because they really aren't well prepared for the rigors of a competitive college prep high school curriculum. If all you've had is Everyday Math or Investigations Math in elementary school, along with a lot of feel good interdisciplinary units with diluted content, then a rigorous high school curriculum is going to feel really intense and challenging.

Anonymous said...

The college admissions is talking about doing their part to reduce stress, too.