Whenever I’m on YouTube, I inevitably stumble upon some amazing young athlete, musician, or acrobat and it’s hard not to be impressed and humbled all at the same time. What goes through my mind is something like, “Man, do I really need to get my act together.” I know I wouldn’t do much different with my life, even if I could turn back the clock, but it still makes me think. As a grown man, with a business and a lot of happy and successful students, I can still feel the pull to be part of that one percent I see on YouTube. So if I can feel that kind of pressure, what do my young students feel like when they see these exceptionally talented kids?
Over my twenty years of teaching I’ve run a lot of impromptu polls in my classes. It helps me get a better sense of what my students go through in their every day and how they are coping with the realities of their world. I ask about grades, peer pressure, technology, sleep habits, and the like. One thing I started noticing years ago was that every kid seemed to be in AP classes, a straight A student, played at least one sport, played an instrument, and belonged to a club. Now, in my head I’m thinking, “How could everyone be this successful? Where do they get all this time? When do they have time to just be kids?” There’s a bell curve for a reason, because we’re all not that talented and organized. So for a while I just thought that my kids were afraid of telling me the truth. That is, until I started talking to my college students.
I graduated in 1996 from a private university in Morris County and have now taught at least half a dozen students that have graduated from the same university. All of them have described a softer university experience with very low pressure on deadlines. As one student said, “You have to really try to fail out of school, because it’s just too expensive, and the students know it.” This is the same place I attended where, if you missed three classes in a semester, without a doctor’s note, your grade would drop a full letter.
On the one hand, I see the pressure to perform, like I’ve never seen before, for grade schoolers and high schoolers. The pressure isn’t to do their best, but to BE the best. On the other hand, I see university students (that aren’t science and technology majors) taking a very expensive four year vacation. Again, as an older man I find these messages confusing, but I have the power and authority to filter out what I don’t want to engage in. However, I can’t imagine how daunting these mixed messages are to young students today, where their power and authority to filter has not yet been developed. Especially if they have not learned the skill sets of self-reliance and self-acceptance. It’s one thing to do your best, but it’s quite another to always be pressured into being the best.