Home
In this issue
April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review May 28, 2008 / 23 Iyar 5768

The Busiest Generation: America seems to value its children's status and achievements over their happiness

By Anne Applebaum

Applebaum
Printer Friendly Version
Email this article

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Ah, the rituals of American spring: the unpacking of the flip-flops, the exchanging of leaf-blowers for lawn mowers, the first traffic jams on the highway to the beach — and the annual spate of reports on the stressful lives of high-school seniors. Last year, in the months between winter college-application deadlines and spring college-acceptance letters, the New York Times infamously ran what amounted to a multipart series on the subject, printing columns and letters with titles like "Young, Gifted, and Not Getting into Harvard," as well as meditations such as the one on the Massachusetts high school that requires its overworked students to do yoga.


But this year is no different. Only days ago, the Times again ran a piece on the Westchester high school that now requires its overworked students to eat lunch, while the Washington Post described, with a certain amount of awe, a Maryland couple who track their five children's complex school and sports schedules on a color-coded spreadsheet. This sort of thing is not unique to New York and Washington, of course, you can find the same kinds of articles in USA Today, Time, or Newsweek. I know this for a fact, because a lot of these stories invariably turn up in the "Most Popular Article" lists, where, just as invariably, I click on them.


There is nothing strange about these stories. Since the university admissions process really is unbelievably fraught, readers of newspapers, many of whom might have college-bound children, naturally find them engrossing. But there is also a weird way in which these stories, and the very real national conversation that inspires them, reflect a kind of schizophrenia in American ideas about education, one that I didn't fully appreciate until I moved abroad.


Without question, Americans, whether wealthy or just upwardly mobile, are nowadays obsessed with preparing their children for a supercompetitive, globalized job market. They will therefore go a long way — switch neighborhoods, borrow money, create color-coded spreadsheets — to get their children into high schools that force them to study and test them regularly. Those who play the game most intensively are often rewarded: The child who takes 15 AP courses, plays the clarinet in three orchestras, runs a Cambodian refugee camp in the summer, and eschews lunch all winter really does have a better chance of getting into college than the child who plays kickball after school in the empty lot next door.


Yet at the same time, the parents of many driven children, raised on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Little House on the Prairie, retain a kind of nostalgia for a pre-industrial America, one in which childhood involved breaking horses and building rafts, in which "schooling" was optional, and in which dropping out was a romantic option. Layered on top of this collective memory is often a rose-colored recollection of their own high-school experience, a Happy Days whirl of sports, proms, and dates. Today's children always seem to be working harder than yesterday's children, having less fun, and taking more tests, at least according to everyone I know.


It's notable, this nostalgia, because it isn't necessarily shared by other countries. Certainly not by the British, some of whose children start taking serious, life-changing exams at age 11, nor by the Koreans whose children declare they can't let themselves "waste even a second" during their 15-hours-a-day, seven-days-a week quest to get into college, preferably Harvard. In fact, any country committed to meritocracy has to impose exams on its high-school seniors. Otherwise, university admissions will necessarily depend upon wealth, access, and parental connections.


More strangely, our nostalgia also clashes oddly with the other important American education narrative, the one that focuses on the 46 percent of high-school seniors who test below the "basic" level in science (only 2 percent qualify as "advanced"), the "Dumbest Generation" of semi-literates glued to their cell phones, and the enormous number of teenagers — a stunning one-third of the total — who fail to graduate from high school on time. Since 38 percent of these teenagers recently told one survey that they dropped out because "I had too much freedom and not enough rules in my life," it's no surprise that solutions to the drop-out crisis often involve the imposition of stricter school regimes, with more organized hours of teaching, more pressure, and, yes, more testing.


Thus are our kids both stupider than we were and harder working — though perhaps this makes sense. America is, after all, the industrialized country with the fewest paid vacations, as well as the only nation, as far as I know, that considers the "pursuit of happiness" a fundamental right. We invented the assembly line, and we invented the modern notion of "leisure." So, welcome back to work today, if you even bothered to take Monday off. Spring is here, the beaches beckon — and you've only got a few weeks left to find an impressive summer job for your high-school junior.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

APPLEBAUM'S LATEST
Gulag: A History  

Nearly 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet Union's labor camps in their more than 60 years of operation. This remarkable volume, the first fully documented history of the gulag, describes how, largely under Stalin's watch, a regulated, centralized system of prison labor-unprecedented in scope-gradually arose out of the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Fueled by waves of capricious arrests, this prison labor came to underpin the Soviet economy. JWR's Applebaum, a former Warsaw correspondent for the Economist and a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, draws on newly accessible Soviet archives as well as scores of camp memoirs and interviews with survivors to trace the gulag's origins and expansion Sales help fund JWR.

Comment on JWR contributor Anne Applebaum's column by clicking here.


Previously:

05/20/08: Leave Hitler Out of It: The craze for injecting the Nazis into political debate must end
05/13/08: A Drastic Remedy: The case for intervention in Burma
05/07/08: A Warning Shot From Moscow?
04/23/08: Radio to stay tuned to
04/17/08: China learns the price of a few weeks of global attention
04/01/08: Head scarves are potent political symbols
03/26/08: The Olympics are the perfect place for a protest
03/19/08: Could Tibet bring down modern China?
03/12/08: Have political autobiographies made us more susceptible to fake memoirs?
03/05/08: Why does Russia bother to hold elections?
02/20/08: Kosovo is a textbook example of the law of unintended consequences
02/06/08: A Craven Canterbury Tale
02/06/08: French prez' whirlwind romance reminds voters of his political recklessness




© 2008, Anne Applebaum

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles