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Schools Today Are Making Students Sick

A cartoon in the Jan. 11th issue of The New Yorker shows a small child in pajamas standing at the side of her parents' bed, with the caption: "I dreamed I was being chased by a giant standardized test." On a more serious note, too many schools are indeed undermining the health of students ("Is the Drive for Success Making Our Children Sick?" The New York Times, Jan. 3).  

A survey last spring by Stuart Slavin, a pediatrician and professor at the St. Louis University School of Medicine, of 2,100 students at Irvington High School in Fremont, Calif. found that 54 percent showed moderate to severe symptoms of depression, and 80 percent suffered moderate to severe symnptoms of anxiety.  He said his findings were a microcosm of a nationwide epidemic of school-related stress that affect young people across the socioeconomic spectrum.

Only parents can decide if these signs and symptoms are a worthwhile price for success.  But I say nothing is more important than mental and physical health.  What good is admission to a marquee-name school if it comes at such a high price?  We've become obsessed with the belief that there is no worthy life without a college degree, particularly one with the proper cachet.  I can assure parents that this is a myth.  I've had countless students who never went to college or graduated from a third-tier college and yet went on to lead a gratifying and productive life.  

It's time to cut students some slack.  They may feel devastated now if they don't get into the college of their choice.  But years later, they'll realize how relatively unimportant it was in the larger scheme of things.  More important, they'll still have their health.  

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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