In the News

Two articles in The New York Times this week illustrated some of the problems with an overemphasis on standardized testing and a system centered on ranking and sorting students instead of treating them as individuals. Whether considering preschoolers, college students, or those somewhere in between, both articles serve as reminders that there is more to education than acquiring academic skills.

David Bornstein’s article “Teaching Social Skills to Improve Grades and Lives” highlights a recent study on the relationship between social skills in childhood and outcomes such as graduation rates and arrests later in life. The connections are significant and add to the growing body of research on the importance of teaching social and emotional skills along with academic skills.

Bornstein writes, “The United States remains far behind other nations in ensuring that young children get the early support they need to thrive — whether it is through paid parental leave or investing in preschool programs. And one of the most troubling aspects of high-stakes testing in education is that it has led many schools to focus on reading and math instruction and test preparation at the expense of other educational goals.”

The second article, “Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection,” by Julie Scelfo, explores the factors contributing to increasing rates of mental health problems among college students. The pressure to achieve and seem perfect in all areas of life is leading many college students to struggle with even minor disappointments and setbacks, as well as with becoming independent from their parents. Students are so involved with trying to achieve and comparing themselves with others that they miss out on the opportunity to develop self-awareness.

Scelfo writes of a dean of freshman at Stanford, Julie Lythcott-Haims, who “watched the collision of these two social forces up close. In meetings with students, she would ask what she considered simple questions and they would become paralyzed, unable to express their desires and often discovering midconversation that they were on a path that they didn’t even like.

“They could say what they’d accomplished, but they couldn’t necessarily say who they were,” said Ms. Lythcott-Haims.”