Picture a typical, hard-working student. Each day she recieves multiple assignments to complete for homework. She is involved in several extracurricular activities so she doesnt have much extra time. After sports practice, she struggles home, ladden with books, to begin studying. On a typical evening she has to work diligently for a couple of hours to complete her homework for school the next day. She has a rigorous schedule that includes honors and advanced placement classes so some nights she is forced to stay up very late to keep up with her classes. Other nights she has an extra packet of work to complete for her SAT Prep course. All this work puts a lot of pressure on her.
This may not seem like anything out of the ordinary and for many students its not. The push to be overachievers and get into the top colleges has caused many high school students to take on heavier workloads and more challenging classes. This push to achieve, however, doesnt end once students reach college. In fact, once they reach the top schools they worked so hard to get into, many students are forced to work even harder than they did in high school and instead of the push to get into the top college, it becomes the push to get into the top graduate school. Graduate students at the countrys top schools, in turn, find that they must continue to overextend themselves in order to secure the top jobs in their particular field. As you can see, there is something wrong.
Americas educational system is seriously flawed because it puts too much emphasis on measuring achievement and not enough on true learning. The problem starts as early as middle school and perhaps even before. Students are weighed down with lengthy homework assignments, which may involve hours of thewir time each night. In fact, U.S. students now have more homework than ever before and it starts atan ealrier age. Specialists, teachers, and parents alike tend to agree that homework is a very important tool.
They say that the amount of homewrok students do as middle and high schoolers leads directly to their success rate in the future. Many studies have been done to prove the positive effects of homework. Some show that students who do more work score better on standardized tests. Homework these days has come to be a measurement, a way in which parents and techers can judge how good an education their students are getting. The standard rule is the more homewrok the better the value of education. After all, parents and teachers alike want to see their students do well and that means scoring highly on standardized tests and getting into the best colleges.
This is the way our society measures the success of its students and everyone wants to be successful so the push lately has been to encourage students to take on more challenging classes and this provides them with more homework. In a recent TIME magazine article, During the past four decades, the suicide rate for teenagers and young adults has more than tripled. Suicide has become the second leading cause of death among college students. It is hard to investigate the actual causes of college suicides because while the statistics are rising and a few shocking stories have caught our attention, the number of deaths at any given school is very small and thus in-depth inquiries are very seldom done, but there are several factors which can increase the risk of suicide substantially. Foreign students are more prone to suicide than natives because many they become isolated.
They often cant find any familiar cultural or family ties in their new environment and thus concentrate solely on their work. Those with suicidal tendencies may be more difficult to recognize in a college setting because instead of being impulsive and out of control, college students who are suicidal tend to be withdrawn, quiet, and to draw little attention to themselves. Those students who move beyond depression to suicide, may fantasize of a better world waiting for them. They are often very resistant to seeking help because they see it as a weakness(Lipschitz). The academic stress faced by college students these days is perhaps higher than ever before. They are faced with a new situation when they reach college and must then struggle to keep up with their new environment. Many college students begin to feel worthless. They measure themselves only by academic or athletic success. This can distort their perception of reality and cause them to blow things out of proportion.
The change in attitude may not even be noticeable to close firends because students who begin to feel overwhelmed and hopeless tend to hide their feelings by immersing themselves in work. As stated early they will usually not seek the help of for example, a guidance counselor, because they do not want to seem weak. This feeling of hopelessness can become a big problem in situations where students are expected to perform at a very high calibar for a long period of time. Jason Altom, considered an extremely gifted graduate student at Harvard University, killed himself last August. He drank a liquid laced with cyanide, that he obtained from the chemistry lab, in which he was doing his doctorate work. He was possibly the brightest student in the chemistry program, he had been accepted into the most exclusive lab group, and his doctorate project was harder than anything the other students had choosen, so it was a shock to learn of his death.
The news of his death, and the content of the three suicide notes he left, one to his parents, on to the Chair of Harvards chemistry department, and one to his student advisor, spread quickly. His advisor just happened to be world famous, Nobel laureate, Elias J. Corey. Corey was notorious for being one of the most strict professors in the department and he certainly had high expectations. The note Altom had left for his parents was eventually shared with a Harvard newspaper. It shocked his friends and fellow classmates by saying that his death could have been avoided.
Altoms note stated that his student advisor, Corey, had had too much control over his future. He wanted Harvard to set up a new system which would distribute the power to other key people and he wqanted a committee set up to monitor the quality of life for graduate students. At Harvard, the student advisor watches over the student as the student does his doctorate work. In the end, it is almost solely the advisor who decides whether or not a student gets a diploma. Another power student advisors have is recommendation.
Without a letter of recommendation from from someone many students find it harder to get jobs once they have graduated. Since their student advisor is the only person who regularly monitors their work, the student advisor is usually the only one qualified to write a letter of recommendation. In this system it is easy to see how a student could feel over whelmed by the power his student advisor had over him and dismayed if he percieved some ill will between the two. Altom had been having trouble in the final stages of his doctoral work.
He had choosen an especially challenging project for himself. He had to sythesize to different molecules and then bond them together. He had completed in sythesizing both molecules, but could not successfully bond them together. Aparently, Altom felt that Corey was unhappy with his progress. He had shared his concerns with some firends, but no one knew the magnitude of his anxiety. Obviously, none of them ever thought he would go to the extent he did and many wonder if this incident should be a warning to us. Harvard and other top schools, where the pressure is intense, have begun to implement changes to counteract several recent deaths, similar to Jason Altoms. The stress he felt, as one of the brightest students, at arguably the best school in the country, should give some insight into what other students, who perhaps have a harder time keeping up, Education.