You’ve read about them. Those super-start students who’re valedictorian, took 7 AP classes and tested out of 3 more AP credits, played in the school marching band, got accepted to Harvard, and started up their own non-profit on the side. All while making it look easy. But was it easy? William Deresiewicz starts out Excellent Sheep, the Miseducation of the American Elite & The Way to a Meaningful Life, by pointing out that the easy super-star student is a myth.
He goes into all sorts of statistics to show that while it appears students are effortlessly over-achieving, when you look at the numbers, what we have — according to one college President — is “an epidemic of depression among younger people.”
Of course, it’s just numbers, and just because it’s written in a book, doesn’t mean it’s true. But when what I’m reading matches my own experiences, I start to take notice.
During my son’s university visits, I talked with some professors at a private university. The year before, the university had a surprisingly high acceptance rate that led to a much bigger entering Freshman class than they had predicted. And the problem wasn’t teaching them. It wasn’t housing them.
It was hiring enough mental health professionals to support them.
That’s saying something. But that wasn’t all. When professors go to conferences, they talk. And while these professors are concerned about what is happening at their own school, it’s nothing compared to what they’re hearing from faculty at other schools, especially at “big name” schools.
There’s one school where they had to build a fence around the roof of a building because it became so popular to jump off to commit suicide.
And we’re talking about an elite university. A school where our brightest, most promising children go.
I am not including the name of the university because I didn’t confirm the information. But I have no reason to doubt it, especially since the information then matched up with some stories I’ve started seeing in the news, such as Suicide Rate at MIT Higher than the National Average. More recently, MIT was in even the popular press as students work to raise awareness, MIT Students Step Up to Help with Suicide Prevention after Seven Classmates in Two Years End Their Lives.
So while we parents always like to think that wouldn’t be our kid, I also think it makes some sense to find out all we can about what’s going on. What’s causing it? And why would the environment be even worse at schools where the kids are so capable?
In my next post, I’ll talk about some explanations proposed in Excellent Sheep.
Posts in this series reviewing Excellent Sheep
- Excellent Sheep review and discussion – Excellent Sheep Part 1/5
- The Accumulation of Gold Stars for Success – Excellent Sheep Part 2/5
- The College Admissions Arms Race – Excellent Sheep Part 3/5
- AP Failure and the College Admissions Arms Race – Excellent Sheep Part Part 4/5
- The Worth of Being the Best – Excellent Sheep Part Part 5/5