"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


the picture of perfection

The New York Times ran an interesting story on Sunday about the perfection demanded of top high school students. This type of pressure to get into the best schools is peculiar to the northeast, but it's spreading South like the plague that it is. Basically, the article points out that kids, especially girls, are convinced (as are their parents) that if they're going to be successful in life, they have to be absolutely perfect in every area of life so they can get into a top college and get a good job. Given how hard it's become to get into the Ivy-peer institutions, it's hard to argue with the perfection part of the argument. If you have a perfect SAT and still can't get into Yale, though, something is horribly wrong with the system.

The girl profiled in the story seems really well-grounded, but I fear that she's an anomaly. My students at Yale were just like this: smart, capable, and interesting. They won the game. The problem was that the vast majority of them had very little sense of self. They'd spent their whole lives working towards the goal of GETTING INTO YALE, and once that was accomplished, many didn't know what to do with themselves. Worse, some had been told by their parents what they needed to do next (go to law school, be an investment banker), but didn't feel called or drawn to the path they were "supposed" to pursue.

I don't know where people got the idea that you can only be a success if you attend one of 15 universities or another 7 or so top liberal arts colleges. It's not true. And it's not healthy. Sixteen-year-olds should be enjoying life with their friends and family, not stressing over whether they're perfect enough to impress an admissions office. They should be figuring out what they really want to do, not what the world expects them to do. They should be free to enter the great conversations, to pursue the things that stir their souls, to dream big dreams. You don't need a Yale degree to do that.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

you know Laura, this was a point of real pride for me with Mary Kathryn. She had these fabulous grades, high SAT scores, etc, etc,and along with it, admissions and scholarships from some "prestigious" schools....she chose UT (definitely a good school) because of a) she just likes Austin, b)it was a State university c) it brought incredible diversity into her life, and d) she just didn't buy the 'if I don't go to Duke/Emory/Princeton/ my life is a waste theory...

I credit her mother, of course, for helping her stay grounded....

anyway, I saw the article and thought the same things....what we DO to people with expectations...what parents do to their children...shame on all of us....

Thursday, April 05, 2007 4:31:00 PM


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