Ring! Ring! Ring! Almost every morning at Deerfield starts with the same loud alarm. Rarely, if ever, is there the opportunity to wake up when one feels like it. Then there is the rush to a seven -hour-day of classes, an hour or two of practice, a forty-five minute sit-down dinner, some free time and then two hours of study hall before a break for a feed, followed by some more work before bed. Assuming, of course, that you aren’t a president of a club, proctor, or someone who has hobbies.
Your two AP classes, team, club, proctoring, hobbies, and limited free time for friends are all worth it, though, because the well-rounded student you strove to become for three years paved the way for your acceptance into an Ivy League college or its equivalent. Your late nights of staying up, sacrificing Greer-time for study-time, doing work for a class you possibly care little about, and going to the gym to train for your sport off-season were all worth it! Or were they?
Recently a documentary came out that makes me question the value of those sacrifices I made at Deerfield to be the perfect college candidate. It is called Race to Nowhere (a play on “Race to the Top?”) and was made by a filmmaker/mom, Vicki Abeles, who asked herself that very question when she saw her children getting physically sick from the stress they accumulated in school. Especially shocking to her was a 13-year-old friend of her daughter who committed suicide after failing a math test.
Abeles asks herself why this girl would commit suicide when kids have failed math tests since math tests came into existence. The answer is pretty simple. It is not the math tests that have changed; it is our attitudes toward them that have. Kids feel now that they must not only excel at every test, but complete them perfectly; as one girl interviewed in the documentary asks, “How do you expect us to do well when we can’t even make mistakes?”
“The pressures come from the colleges, from the parents, from the government. It has to stop,” says a teacher from the documentary. I agree. College advisors say that “reach” schools won’t become “probable” until we take another AP, and add on another club. Parents are no better, repeating the same message at home, and often much more frequently then our advisors do. Ultimately we must ask ourselves, is this worth it?
One official in the documentary clearly answered this question by apprehensively stating that she’s afraid “children are going to sue us for stealing their childhoods.” This might be a bit of an overstatement, because we can’t possibly hate all of our commitments; firing quick comebacks to Mr. D during my art exemption or sitting in Francoise’s apartment after a long night of proctor duty make up some of my best memories at Deerfield. But what about my failed attempts at Calculus and chemistry? Did I really need to put myself through those pains? Do you?
Deerfield, I ask you to redefine “success!” Is it staying up until two in the morning for the class that makes your head hurt, or is it throwing around a Frisbee on the lower levels? Is it signing up for your third club or having time to read Twilight? Only you can answer the question for yourself, but perhaps it is time to open the discussion to the Deerfield community and not only redefine personal success but redefine the images of the ideal “Deerfield Boy” and “Deerfield Girl.”
Emily Galindo ’09 is a sophomore at Middlebury College.