Recently a New York Times columnist, Marc Bernstein, presented the idea that a senior year for high school students is no longer necessary and that most students are least productive during their senior year as senioritis sets in and workloads decrease before the transition to college.
Bernstein proposes that a more productive use of that time after junior year would be for students to take college courses, either part- or full-time, or to use the time to volunteer or get a job to gain experience. While it sounds like a productive solution, one must ask the question, why are we so obsessed with pushing children to enter the adult world so quickly?
Petula Dvorak of the Washington Post is also involved in the conversation about the rate at which we push children to become adults. In her column she cites a situation she witnessed where a 10-year-old boy in her carpool was worried about having his cholesterol levels checked and getting vaccinated for possible future sexually transmitted diseases.
She goes on to report that in a recent study, nearly half of all seventh graders polled attested to having been sexually harassed at school. This is a problem, though one that is perhaps not surprising. With cell phones glued to hands and television glorifying sexuality and adulthood for young people through shows like “16 and Pregnant,” “Teen Mom” and even “Pretty Little Liars,” where a high school student is in a romantic relationship with a teacher, it becomes increasingly clear that kids are being encouraged to grow up very quickly.
But it is not just in relationships that they are being forced to grow up. The pressure now put on students from a young age is outrageous. It is becoming a more and more common practice for students to be enrolled in school, have several after-school activities and also be expected to attain high marks academically in order to get into better schools. While AP classes, IB courses and part-time college courses in high school can be beneficial to students who want to be challenged, they are certainly not for everyone and should not be considered necessary to be successful in the future.
The adult world, as any college senior knows, is a daunting prospect no matter how prepared you think you are. Why put that kind of stress on kids before we have to? Would it really be so bad to allow children the opportunity to have some fun and maybe take a break every once in a while? It is not a coincidence that the jobs society considers to be most successful, like dentistry and medicine, also have the highest suicide rates. In today’s fast-paced, high-stress world it is easy to forget the things that make it worthwhile. Most people remember not their exams but their friends the longest; we take pictures at proms and school plays, not at midterms and study sessions.
It is the fun, frivolous things that make the work bearable, and to take away something like a senior year or music and art in exchange for elevated math and science is not right or fair. Anyone can work to learn skills, but creativity is unique and impossible to duplicate from person to person. It is time that our society took a hard look at how we measure success and ask the question, “What are we working for?” Are money and social status the be all end all or should we consider contentment and happiness as the real rewards?