Holding back hard-charging high schoolers

If only every school had this problem. School officials at the affluent New Trier High School in northern Chicago, a high-performing public school that sends 95 percent of its graduates to four-year colleges, are discussing plans that they hope will decrease student intensity. Officials say extreme parental pressure to win admission to elite colleges causes students to overburden themselves by taking the toughest classes and packing multiple extracurricular activities into their days. At New Trier, almost 150 students skip lunch, while many others arrive to school early (around 7:00 a.m.) to take more classes - up to an astonishing nine classes per day. Officials want to make lunch mandatory and require students who show up early to take a free period later in the day. But this has drawn criticism from students like Melissa Birkhold, who skips lunch for chamber orchestra (her third music class) and hopes to be a musician some day: "They're trying to cut out some of the arts classes, and they don't understand that that's what makes life fun...I don't think they should tell me I have to take both lunch and a free period." Certainly, some perspective is required. But school officials should be careful about regulations that curtail ambition and useful activity (think of France's mandatory 35-hour work week, designed to impose leisure, which has crippled the French economy). Should "Do Less" really be the message school leaders send to students?

"Hard-charging high schools urge students to do less," by Amanda Paulson, Christian Science Monitor, March 21, 2005

"Lunch - or Harvard?," by Jodi S. Cohen, Chicago Tribune, March 3, 2005

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