I laughed for a long time when I saw this tweet by Maureen Downey, the education writer for the AJC, but then these words stopped me dead in my tracks: “Will this look good on a college resume?” My 10th grader was asking me this as she was pondering joining a club, and I immediately knew that it was time for us to have a talk. I told her to join if she liked what the club was about and believed in the purpose of the club. I also encouraged her to think through her time and schedule constraints to see if she had time to devote to this club. Building a college resume is not the lens I want her to use to decide activities.
Later in 3rd block today a student asked, “What clubs look best on a college application?” Fellow students were quick to give advice about why “Club A” is better than “Club B” in the eyes of the almighty college admissions counselor. I sat listening to students size up clubs and activities all through the college resume lens.
Students are under a considerable amount of pressure today to perform in school, tear it up on the sports field, be a member of every honor club at school, and spend summers doing community service in order to create the perfect college resume. Today the term “well-rounded” means going from ball practice, to music lessons, to service group, then home to study. I know kids who stay up until midnight or 1 doing homework because they got in late from activities and have 3 or 4 hours of work from their AP classes. Weekends are filled with travel ball tournaments and SAT prep classes so students can excel in everything. As Maureen tweets, “No wonder these kids are neurotic.”
The problem with students being so busy preparing for the next phase of life is that they are not able to enjoy their current phase of life (unless it’s 3rd block AP lit were we sit and smell the roses – or coffee- everyday at least for a few minutes). And it doesn’t end when they are accepted into the “right” college. After college there’s the perfect grad school or job (BRANDON BARBER) then the right career path or the next thing. We are setting our students up for a life of disillusionment, disappointment, and discontentment.
Consider the following paragraph from Harvard’s admission website:
Faced with the fast pace of growing up today, some students are clearly distressed, engaging in binge drinking and other self- destructive behaviors. Counseling services of secondary schools and colleges have expanded in response to greatly increased demand. It is common to encounter even the most successful students, who have won all the “prizes,” stepping back and wondering if it was all worth it. Professionals in their thirties and forties – physicians, lawyers, academics, business people and others – sometimes give the impression that they are dazed survivors of some bewildering life-long boot-camp. Some say they ended up in their profession because of someone else’s expectations, or that they simply drifted into it without pausing to think whether they really loved their work. Often they say they missed their youth entirely, never living in the present, always pursuing some ill-defined future goal. (I would encourage you to read more at Harvard’s Admissions page).
While we still have influence on students, I propose we, parents and teachers, focus less on being “well-rounded” by society’s definition and teach students how to live well instead.
“Well-rounded” means having a schedule divided into small pieces to cover anything that might look potentially good on a resume while living well means devoting large amounts of time to what you like.
“Well-rounded” means keeping a full calendar while living well means leaving room for margin.
“Well-rounded” is basically about impressing others while living well is about being at peace with who we really are and having time to enjoy relationships with friends and family.
“Well-rounded” is looking good on paper while living well is enjoying life.
We are doing students no favor by stressing to them they must have their cake and eat it too build a perfect resume but have no time to enjoy eating cake. So here’s to more cake eating and less resume writing.