High school isnt what it used to be. With record numbers of students competing fiercely to get into college, schools are no longer primarily places of learning. Theyre dog-eat-dog battlegrounds in which kids must set aside interests and passions in order to strategize over how to game the system. In this increasingly stressful environment, kids arent defined by their character or hunger for knowledge, but by often arbitrary scores and statistics.
In The Overachievers, journalist Alexandra Robbins delivers a poignant, funny, riveting narrative that explores how our high-stakes educational culture has spiraled out of control. During the year of her ten-year reunion, Robbins returns to her high school, where she follows students including CJ and others:
Robbins tackles hard-hitting issues such as the student and teacher cheating epidemic, over-testing, sports rage, the black market for study drugs, and a college admissions process so cutthroat that some students are driven to depression and suicide because of a B. Even the earliest years of schooling have become insanely competitive, as Robbins learned when she gained unprecedented access into the inner workings of a prestigious Manhattan kindergarten admissions office.
A compelling mix of fast-paced storytelling and engrossing investigative journalism, The Overachievers aims both to calm the admissions frenzy and to expose its escalating dangers.
Going to extremes
Getting good grades, playing sports and participating in school clubs are all part of the high school experience. But what happens when a teenager's need to be at the top of the class becomes a perfectionist workaholism? Author Alexandra Robbins reports on the disturbing rise of overachiever culture in The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids.
Robbins' compelling investigative journalism traces a year in the lives of several overachieving teens at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland, a public high school often touted as one of the best in the nation. These are teens who skip lunch to squeeze in one more Advanced Placement class, who continue to play competitive sports while seriously injured, and whose extreme stress leads to unnaturally thinning hair, panic attacks and eating disorders. Increasingly, the author shows, these teens are becoming the norm rather than the exception.
Robbins also explores the repercussions of an overachiever culture, from a spike in suicide rates among teens, chronic sleep deprivation, and abuse of Adderall and Ritalin by non-ADD teens to rampant cheating, loss of childhood, and academic competition starting as early as preschool. She finds irony in today's hypertesting education systems that compromise the quality of education and in helicopter parents, so named for hovering over their children, who leave students so sheltered that they lack social skills and initiative.
The author concludes this eye-opener with suggestions for high schools, colleges, counselors, parents and students alike on ways to break the addictive, abusive cycle of extreme perfectionism.
Angela Leeper is an educational consultant and freelance writer in Wake Forest, North Carolina.