Sometimes progress isn't.
I help coach a high school girl's golf team and these past couple of years I've been watching something very disturbing. Kids at the senior high have the option of taking college level classes while they are still in school. At first glance, this sounds like a great idea--a few classes to challenge bright students, tuition free if they pass the class, and shortening their expensive college curriculum when they graduate. What's not to love?
Well, a lot actually. I decided to make just a short list:
1. College classes take priority over life and extracurricular activities.
Now, I can hear parents scratching their heads. Shouldn't education come first? Well--yes and no. You see, these are formative years, when hormones and societal pressures are at their peaks, when learning to work with teams as well as by yourself is the best indicator for a successful adult life, and a time when most teens are still trying to figure out what they want to do in terms of careers. I have watched so many of our young women writhe with the pressure of too-difficult classes while they attempt to work, play instruments in the school band and practice their sports. Adding college level course work has made this trend ever more pronounced.
2. College professors aren't trained to understand the time constraints and needs of students 16-18 years of age.
Several of our girls have missed not only practices but actual tournaments because college professors believed their test or class was more important that the young woman's sport. I just want parents to consider--what will the girls remember more? Chemistry or the medal they won, the team plaque they helped bring home? The team-based learning is just as important for kids this age--creating good sportsmanship, self-esteem, physical health, on and on. And it is only available for a fleeting period of time. Professors do not factor in the very real complexity of a young woman's life at this age--that her life is more than her college class.
3. It's the "Race to Nowhere"!
If you want to view a film that is a real wake-up call, I suggest the documentary film called the Race to Nowhere. It examines the pressure cooker of too much, too soon, faster and better culture on high school students. When teens are driven by adults, society or themselves to perform many activities perfectly, with an eye on getting into the best schools, the result is often tragic levels of anxiety and burnout. Teens desperately need down time--it's when their bodies grow and rebuild, their minds expand and dream and they get to know the play of their emotional selves. They may be teenagers but they need time to "hang out" and "play". If they don't take the time to do this when they are young, the cost when they are older will far outweigh saving a few hundred bucks on a college course.
4. Keeping up with their friends
Sadly, some girls I've watched are really more worried about copying what their friends are doing, regarding college classes in high school. These girls are really avoiding being true to themselves and their own needs and time constraints. This is the age when conformity hits a high note, and to me, taking college classes while losing out on the opportunities of sport, theater, and service clubs because "all my friends are doing it" is not much different than drinking or smoking because "all my friends do it." The cost can be just as high.
5. Failing now, fearing later
The young person who struggles with college content (designed for a more emotionally mature and experienced young adult) is learning an anti-lesson. Much like children who are double-promoted in elementary school, these children will find themselves as emotionally and socially behind when they do go on to real colleges and universities. Their very youth will be their disadvantage. And if they fail? The message they tend to tell themselves is that they aren't smart enough to do college when really, they just were not ready on so many levels. It's a failure that may deeply affect the rest of their lives.
If you have a child who values sport, works as well as goes to school, or has other extracurricular activities that bring them joy and self-esteem, please, please, please dialogue with your child about these points. The programs are so new, we are just now beginning to consider the fall-out.
And you don't want that fall-out to be your beloved teen.