For Some Teens, a Busy Life Takes Fun Out of High School

    For Some Teens, a Busy Life Takes Fun Out of High School
    Photo: Race to Nowhere: Reel Link Films
    Last year, twenty-nine percent of first-year college students surveyed said they often felt "overwhelmed" by all they had to do in their last year of high school.

    This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

    For years the University of California, Los Angeles, has done a national survey of first-year college students. Some of the questions in the Freshman Survey relate to emotional health and stress. Last year, twenty-nine percent said they often felt "overwhelmed" by all they had to do in their last year of high school. That was two percentage points higher than the year before.

    There was a big difference between men and women. Almost forty percent of women reported feeling that level of stress, compared to just eighteen percent of men.

    Deborah Stipek is dean of the School of Education at Stanford University in California. She says a lot of students are under too much pressure from parents and schools.

    DEBORAH STIPEK: "They are not enjoying what can be the incredible satisfaction of learning and developing understandings and skills. Leaning can be an adventure. But instead of an adventure, it's really about the test, it's about the college application."

    Professor Stipek recently wrote about this issue in the journal Science. She used the example of her own daughter in high school. Her daughter has taken advancement placement, or AP, courses in French to earn credit toward college. She told her mother she would be happy to never speak French again.

    DEBORAH STIPEK: "I think that revealed the real basic problem, which is the AP courses that she was taking in French were not about learning French, not about being able to communicate with a different culture, or to travel, or to have a skill that could be useful in life. It was about getting a score on an AP test that would help her get into the college of her choice."

    Professor Stipek says high schools should listen to their students.

    DEBORAH STIPEK: "One of the things that schools are doing that we're working with is doing yearly surveys of students to find out what their sources of stress and anxiety [are], and get their ideas on what the school can do, what kinds of policies can be supportive of them. And this has been actually amazing, because we've gone into schools where they say 'This isn't a problem.' And then they do a survey of the students, and they are just blown away by what they get back from the students when the students are actually asked."

    In two thousand nine, a documentary film looked at the pressure on many students to succeed in school and in lives busy with activities and homework. The film is called "Race to Nowhere."

    STUDENTS: "If you were dedicating your whole life to your grades, you have to be smart. And you have to be involved in the arts. I have soccer practice every day. Plus the homework on top of that. Produce, produce, produce. It's impossible. I couldn't cope."

    Deborak Stipek says the film shows that many students today are not experiencing the joys of learning.

    DEBORAK STIPEK: "I was interviewed in it, as many others were, and I think the most compelling interviews were of the students. These are students who felt under enormous pressure to perform, and I want to underscore the word 'perform,' as opposed to 'learn.'"

    She says the hardest lesson for society may be that young people will grow up lacking interest in learning.

    And that's the VOA Special English Education Report. Tell us about life for students where you are. We invite your comments at or on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Christopher Cruise.


    Contributing: Rosanne Skirble