Monday, September 28, 2009

Too Stressed To Learn?

*A re-post from 2007, but as relevant today as then*
Life's tough. Perhaps a little too tough.
So says a letter to the Editor in the February 8, 2007 edition of The Denver Post. Two classes of sixth graders, in a "joint, in-class writing project" and mentored/guided by their teachers, wrote a letter espousing how "stressed" they are in this day and age.
Here's the letter:
It's time to change the definition of winning.
It's tough being a kid these days. Even before we are born, our parents, teachers, coaches and counselors are stressing about us. Our parents are choosing to work two jobs to have enough money to get us into the right play groups, the right schools, and onto the right teams so we can all be winners.
At school we have to start earlier, stay later, we get no recess and more homework to do better on CSAPs (state standarized tests to measure achievement and performance) so we can all be winners. Our coaches schedule more practices, make us play year-round, and tell us not to play any other sports so we all can be winners.
But here's the problem: we can't all be winners because there aren't enough games, so we feel like we're letting everyone down. Then everyone wonders why we're so stressed out - and that's where the counselors come in.
What's the solution? Maybe we should change the definition of a winner. Right now, winners are those who have the most things - like money, trophies and fame. We think the real winners should be those who love, who are loved, and who are happy. And turning us into objects is not the way to get there.
Mrs. Frisch/Mrs. Sinn's sixth grade classes
Hill Middle School, Denver CO
Finally, there's a note from the Editor: this letter is a product of a joint, in-class writing project. With the stress of CSAPs drawing near, students sounded off on the pressure and expectations they face, and how it's taking away from "just being a kid".
Let's have a collective "awwwwwwwwwww".
Yep. Sure sounds like life is tougher for sixth graders today than it was in 1968, when I was a sixth grader. After all, we didn't have parents, teachers, coaches and counselors pushing us.
Oops; yes, we did.
Well, we didn't have to go to school from early morning until mid-afternoon.
Oops; yes, we did.
We didn't get recess.
Oops; yes, we did.
We did, because we didn't have parents, teachers, coaches, counselors, layers of school administrators, bureaucrats AND lawyers who fretted about students being "traumatized" on the playground in competitive games of dodgeball, tetherball, kickball, softball, etc.; nor were they worried about us participating in competitive sports where scores were kept and there were winners and losers.
In fact, one of my elementary physical education instructors taught us that "losing a game inspired one to work harder to win the next time". He was right.
As for focusing on one sport at the expense of all others, none -- not one -- of my coaches and physical ed instructors, from elementary through high school, ever encouraged me to limit myself to one sport and one only; the more sports and activities, the better and more well-rounded an athlete and physically fit I'd become. Perhaps 21st Century coaches at Hills Middle School just forgot about that during Political Correctness 101.
Homework; we didn't have that to cope with.
Oops; yes, we did.
And there's those pesky, stress-inducing CSAP tests; we didn't have those back in 1968.
Oops; yes, we did.
They were called the Iowa Basic Skills Test. We took them annually. Preparing for them was like preparing for any test in any class we took. In fact, studying for our individual classes prepared us for the Iowa Basic Skills Test. A test I reckon was every bit as demanding as the current CSAP, if not moreso.
I did overlook something here: my parents didn't have to work two jobs to put five kids through school.
Oops; yes, they did. They worked two jobs and were active in state level politics.
Guess I musta been too stressed to "just be a kid", eh?
Oops; no, I wasn't. At least I didn't have any of my teachers back then telling me how "stressed" I should be.
As for the letter, I don't put any blame or shame on the students of these two classes. They're sixth grade kids. I put the blame for the whiny, pathetic tone of this letter and much of what it conveys on the teachers, the educrats of Hills Middle School, AND the teachers union that fosters such whiny pablum.
It must be hard for some who choose teaching as a profession to actually teach students to learn, to strive, to achieve, and to excel. Especially when it isn't fair that not all will. So some of the aforementioned sixth graders at Hill Middle School should be held back, told how "stressed" they are, and made to feel guilty about trying to 'win', achieve, excel and advance. This will better level the playing field for all. After all, it isn't about winning in life; it's about equal outcome for everyone, right?
Oops; not in real life beyond school, it ain't.
And what about 'winning': should the definition be changed in the same way that Bill Clinton tried to change the definition of 'is'? Isn't a winner defined as anyone who works hard, does their best, gets up when they fall down, and views a loss as a learning experience? Is a winner really and strictly defined, at least according to this letter, by awards, trophies and "objects" that a winner collects?
If that's how a winner is viewed by these two classes, then I ask you: what are these two teachers really teaching these kids? This letter makes me wonder. For the parents of these students, they should be wondering as well.
Now I'll grant you that probably not every teacher at Hills Middle School adheres to the "life's too tough" approach in their teaching philosophy. And even among those who bow three times to the union image in the school restroom daily, not all believe that winning, achievement and excellence are a bad thing for kids to strive for.
But this letter from sixth graders at Hills Middle School does tell me one thing: I'm glad I don't have kids attending that school. Not because the students are just "too stressed"; because apparently, the teachers of those two classes are too stressed to do their students a real service in life and learning.
Life's tough. It's tougher if your kid's teachers are too stressed to do right by your kids.


Blogger Monica said...


So, life's too tough so why bother?

I hear it here, too. You know what it is, right? They get money/funding based on these tests. They are so involved with these tests that they don't have real classrooms anymore.

But we can't blame the teachers because we are parents just trying to unload our responsibility.

If my kid robs a liquor store? I have to look at what values I'm teaching. If my kid is not understanding English? I have to look at what methods are best for her. As it turned out in my daughter's case, the public school system was letting her down in her formative years. After five years of private school, she is excelling in the public system now.

And well, we won't even go into all the paid time off they get.

It's been my experience that the teachers that whine the most are the ones who need a serious career change.

But what do I know, right? I'm just a parent...who got her kid out of Dodge in time to help her really learn.

Great post, Skunk.

08 February, 2007 12:31  
Blogger Monica said...

I hope I was clear in that I don't blame teachers if my kids mess up in anyway EXCEPT academically. But I DO hold them accountable when they have my child 6-8 hours a day and I tell them I see a problem and they go, oh she'll grow into it and she doesn't till more personalized help is given.

08 February, 2007 12:33  
Anonymous Pete Aldin said...

Mmm. I actually think Kids are stressed out more. But it may be different in Australia.

Personally I think the kid in the first letter was close to the mark when they said it was all the adults around them that make things stressful. In part, that's because we've introduced kids to the IDEA of stress.

Let 'em play.

08 February, 2007 19:36  
Blogger Herb said...

From the right side of the church comes a resounding, "Amen!" With the caveat that parents can screw up a kid by not teaching them what proper priorities are. Excellent one. Maybe I should read more than just "Brewster Rockitt" in the Post, huh?

08 February, 2007 20:31  
Anonymous stacy said...

Monica's right. Here in PA it's the PSSA's that stress the kids...and no wonder! The teachers stop teaching everything else and start cramming on what will be on the test for two weeks leading up to it. All the kids hear over and over is how they have to do well because the better they do, the more alcolades and funding the school gets.

09 February, 2007 15:49  
Blogger Raggedy said...

I loved this part "Isn't a winner defined as anyone who works hard, does their best, gets up when they fall down, and views a loss as a learning experience?" That is absobloodylutely true. School here is not the way the school you described is. I have a straight "A" student who attends before and after school functions. He is in Football, basketball, baseball and hockey. FBLA, Year Book committee, robotics, speech, band and pep and jazz band, taxidermy, he even got his hunting license through the school. He leaves at 7AM and gets home from school at 9 or 10 pm. The only day he does not have after school activities is Wednesday and on that night he has piano lessons. He practices piano from 1030-1100 and from 6am-6:30am and he is NOT stressed he enjoys every minute of it. The teachers are happy, the kids are happy and they are all just loving it!
Great post!
Have a wonderful day!
(=':'=) hugs
(")_ (")Š from
the Cool Raggedy one

10 February, 2007 04:16  
Blogger Miss Cellania said...

I tell my kids they need to be MORE stressed, since they obviously aren’t working hard enough. I read this article, and figured out why I’m such a failure.

17 February, 2007 10:10  
Blogger Debbie said...

I read somewhere that Obama said kids have too much time on their hands, and he wants them not to have a summer vacation, but to go to school 12 months, so they can compete with other countries.

I have no problem with kids going to school year round, learning more, being more competitive with other countries, but is it the president's place to decide this?

He seems to want to micro manage every aspect of our lives, but he has no time to make a decision of troops for Afghanistan.

Deborah F. Hamilton
Right Truth

28 September, 2009 09:03  
Blogger Cheffie-Mom said...

Hey curmudgey... love this re-post. In my overcooked-book, this re-post defines winner. This world is a pretty magical place. You are one of the gazillions of reasons, why. enJOY a wonderful day and upcoming weekend !!

28 September, 2009 10:38  
Blogger Serena said...

Maybe if the grownups backed off and quit pushing their stressors onto the kids, the kids would then be tough enough to get through childhood. They should just let 'em be kids while they can.

28 September, 2009 20:12  
Blogger JMK said...

Not everyone can win.....TRUE, at least not every time, but this seemingly well-intentioned teacher's letter sounds like a lesson plan for losing.

I can see his mantra, "Embrace he Loser Within."

That doesn't lead anywhere productive.

If I don't know better, I'd probably think this missive was really about a teacher not having to actually teach kids so they can pass that battery of standardized exams. Too much work....for teacher???

29 September, 2009 13:06  
Blogger The Things We Carried said...

Not because the students are just "too stressed"; because apparently, the teachers of those two classes are too stressed to do their students a real service in life and learning.

Cheers. Couldn't agree more with your perspective on this article.

30 September, 2009 21:30  
Blogger daniel john said...

Hi, nice post. I have been thinking about this topic,so thanks for sharing. I will likely be coming back to your blog. Keep up the good work.

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19 July, 2010 04:55  

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