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In Defense of Senioritis


Conventional wisdom once held that the second semester of 12th grade was a period of care-free exuberance, punctuated by long lunch breaks and trips to the beach. Times change, however. According to Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, the increasingly competitive college admissions process, abetted by a culture of academic “fear mongering,” has transformed such harmless frivolity into a diagnosable disorder—senioritis.

Mathews wants no part of that thinking. Suggesting that learning to mix work and play is as important as any AP test, he encourages educators to give their seniors a break, and tells seniors themselves to get a grip. Having a social life and getting a full night’s sleep are worth losing a few multiple-choice questions.

“Once you're in the habit of treating every assignment as critical to your future, it's hard to regain perspective,” Mathews warns. “Isn't the second half of senior year, with college applications turned in—in some cases with an admission letter in your pocket—the perfect time to try out a balanced life?”



Remind me to invest overseas.

Somehow, I don't think the Asians will be heading to the beach or having pizza at 3am and talking with their friends the night before the AP exam.... It's a sign of the times....

As a recently retired teacher, I think I can logically comment on this subject. Our kids at the upper levels are more stressed out than you can imagine. America demanded quality schools and rightly so. Our kids however, were not prepared for the work that comes with being a professional student. I lived in Spain with a family and my family's children worked incessantly on homework, projects, etc. They went to school on Saturday for Phys Ed classes and this was as loose as it got all week. Kids took an exam in 8th grade that determined what type of school they could attend; academic, vocational, technical. Their futures were determined at age 13! Could Americans support that, I think not. Our serious students have no social or athletic lives and must choose between the 4.0 or the play, a sport, etc. Teachers must find a balance in learning and work demands. In my last years of teaching, I demanded working smart, not working hard. I taught my kids how to prioritize work and how to manage time. College is so much different from high school and many good students cannot make the adjustment. High school is only a part of the journey and we can produce intelligent students without the stress.

Balance... It's all about balance.
If students were encouraged and allowed to live balanced lives in the years leading up to the last semester of senior year, there wouldn't be as much push to back off. The problem of throwing in the towel nine months before starting college is that students will lose the habits of work that they spent so long developing. If the only purpose of taking good courses, working hard, and participating in the arts, athletics, and service is to get into college, we have our priorities all wrong.

Having taught mostly senior high civics for 30 years(retired as of '07),I still stand by one rule......no slacking. I would have done these kids an extreme "injustice" if I had not used the entire academic period,or had not pushed essay writing,or not have pushed note taking, or not have pushed a strong expectation of attendance or not have punished tardiness..... all the way to June. Yes, "A"s were hard to come by. But I wanted them to be able to remember, in the future, that I was no slacker and that I gave them some tools to compete with in this highly competitive world where you must truly prove yourself. Let them have their senior ditch day but don't let them slack the other 185 days. Tyrant? No. Mentor of
prepared citizens? Yes....

The "senioritis" column by Jay Mathews may be one the the best (meaning common sensical) he's written. Unfortunately, Mathews cannot have it both ways. Perhaps more than any single education writer, Mathews consistently and unfailingly trumpets Advanced Placement (AP) courses and tests as the tonic to "cure" public education. Mathews doesn't let research get in the way either. He ignores most of what the Sandia Report said about the successes of American public schooling, and he glosses over the half-dozen or so research studies of AP courses and tests that point out numerous criticisms.

Most recently, Mathews wrote a front-page piece in the Washington Post that made the case for disgruntled (upper middle class??) parents who want MORE weighting for AP and Honors class grades. Mathews cited the Geiser and Santelices (2004) U-Cal study but failed to not th
his major finding of that study:
"...it is evident that an unweighted HSGPA
– a GPA that does NOT grant additional points
for honors – is consistently the best predictor
of both first- and second-year college grades
for each of the three cohorts in the sample.
The greater the weight given to AP and
honors, moreover, the weaker the prediction.

You cannot continually push more AP courses as the panacea, as Mathews does, and then bemoan the anxiety, stress, and distorted sense of what's really important that are often end products.

As a teacher of senior English I cannot fully agree with the comment above. I teach the regular run-of-the-mill student and lower, and believe me, they are far from ready to give up the ghost! In so many ways many of them are not ready for college at all. I feel I am racing the clock, although I certainly know there is only so much I can do at this point. The problem on my end is that senior year is a wasteland -- besides English and government, most of these students leave early for jobs or take a plethora of art and drama classes to fill the time. No wonder they feel there is no meaning to this time period -- it is set up that way. When I was a senior, way back in the day, most of my classes counted for graduation. That is not true for most of the students I teach -- they don't need the credits, except mine and government, thank God. I really feel for the other teachers.

Mr. Calgaro offers a typical opinion--that in the US we offer open opportunity to all students without what is perceived to be the rigid tracking systems of European and Asian schools. This perception does not take into account the vast differences between the schools and systems that various students have access to from kindergarten forward. While various other countries may select students for various tracks from age 13 (not always this low) and prepare them for various eventualities regarding future education or employment--based on achievement, we in America select students based on parent income (where one can affort to buy a house--or rent) to be a part of systems that either prepare all students for a wide array of options, high achievement and rigor, or limit them to systems featuring low levels of engagement, high levels of non-completion and mixed to low levels of academic achievement.

After 38 years of HS teaching, I think I must agree with Vince. I think the real challenge of the last semester of senior year is to keep the course INTERESTING. If we present them with (I taught English for most of my career) great books that ask questions that are as relevant today as they were when the books were written, and help them understand that the work they are doing in HS will be of benefit to them later on in life, they will cooperate and they will learn.

When they know that the work is just getting done because it's "there," of course they will not take it seriously.l I think that many of the contributors to this post (it obvious struck a chord since it got such a good response) understand this and practice it in their teaching.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • tim: After 38 years of HS teaching, I think I must read more
  • Margo/Mom: Mr. Calgaro offers a typical opinion--that in the US we read more
  • Helen: As a teacher of senior English I cannot fully agree read more
  • Mark Crockett: The "senioritis" column by Jay Mathews may be one the read more
  • Vince: Having taught mostly senior high civics for 30 years(retired as read more




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