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Is School Harming Our Kids?

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I just got off the phone with my sister. It is almost the end of the school year, and the students at her daughter's elementary school have a week of testing ahead during which they'll take the Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, tests. My niece, aged 10. is staying up till 10 pm most every night to study, and she is stressed out. What is wrong with this picture?

Our kids are under increasing pressure to do well on these standardized tests and teachers are also under pressure to have their kids perform at high levels. My niece was told that in preparation for the STAR testing, the school was taking away vocabulary and spelling homework and replacing it with a substantial packet of tests to take home and study. This is on top of her already rigorous homework schedule. What is the reason for this? My sister believes that it is not for the students' education necessarily -- it is to make the school look good. The question is -- at what price?

There are plenty of parents who are not happy with what is going on. Children and teens are increasingly sleep deprived, overscheduled and ceaselessly connected on social media. This, apart from the regular stresses, creates fertile a ground for anxiety, which can then lead to depression:

• About 20 percent of teens will experience teen depression before they reach adulthood.

• Most teens with depression will suffer from more than one episode. 20 to 40 percent will have more than one episode within two years, and 70 percent will have more than one episode before adulthood. Episodes of teen depression generally last about 8 months.

Day after day, the students have to memorize reams of data. Then they must regurgitate it well on quizzes just so that they can move on to the next subject area to be memorized and regurgitated. How much of this knowledge are they retaining? Is this really the best way to develop a love for learning? Can it even really be called true learning?

When did schools get away from the idea of giving our kids the proper tools they need to create a life of meaning? Today, it is equally as important to have students equipped to face the ups and down that inevitably come up as it is to have them graduate. The most successful people do not only possess book smarts; they possess emotional intelligence, know their own strengths and use them well and create positive relationships and know how to manage their emotions. Successful people and true leaders care about others - -it's not just about "me." In this increasingly interconnected world, a thriving future is more than ever about "we."

Today, students do not even have the luxury to contemplate a life of meaning, nor the qualities that create a happy life; they are dealing with unprecedented stress levels. The whole idea of getting into the "right" college is a lie. It puts undue pressure on both students and their parents. The truth is there are a great many colleges and universities. Finding the right fit for each individual is more important than succumbing to the mass hysteria that the college search has become. The fact is it doesn't have to be that way.

Students need to be taught that everyone has a gift and that it is important to cultivate what they are passionate about. Joseph Campbell said it best: "Follow your bliss." In contrast, the educational system tries to produce "well-rounded" people -- teaching students to be "competent" in all areas. It sounds good, yet so much is designed for schools to retain their standing based on the test results. On the subject of competency, some might even argue that competence is not that far away from mediocrity. How do we develop inspired leaders, those who are among the best in any area of expertise? Students have to go deep into what they are passionate about and be encouraged to do so. What if we found the spark in young people, that special thing which lights them up and taps into their creative genius, and then we nurtured them to run with it? What if we provided experiential learning opportunities grounded in real life? What if we found mentors to help them along?

Let's take it one step further with a simple shift of perspective. What if we challenged youth to find solutions for the problems they are inheriting from us? What if we supported them on that quest and incentivized them to come up with possible solutions? If we nurtured their strengths and innate brilliance we might be very surprised and impressed with the ideas they would introduce.

One of my favorite quotes is one by Howard Thurman: "Ask not what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." It's time to look at the stresses we put on our children and education in general in a new way.

Is school doing a good job for your child -- why or why not?

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