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Nancy Bailey's Education Website: Anxiety and Depression in the Age of the Super Student

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, a group of doctors, recently recommended screening children as young as eight for major depressive disorder (MDD). How do eight-year-olds wind up depressed? Depression they say could show up with functional impairments in school performance. Could it be in part because this is the age of the super student?

Newsweek reports, As Teen Loneliness Rates Soar, Schools May Be Making It Worse, Scientists Say. They touch upon No Child Left Behind but fail to explore specifics. Instead, they lay out frightening statistics and point to school closures during Covid.

Then they discuss how Tacoma school teachers teach social-emotional learning skills, but this is about changing students. While some of these changes might be helpful, they don’t discuss other adjustments to the school structure that could be student-friendly and relieve stress.

Some students experiencing anxiety may need counselors and teachers to help them through their storms or assistance from licensed social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists outside of school.

Others might need to decompress from the high expectations to make them super students. Americans could push back on the harmful school privatization and profit-making practices they’ve allowed to take over schools throughout the years.

Here’s what they’d address:

Class Size

Lowering class sizes, including bringing back homerooms, would mean teachers could better understand their students, and students would build trust to talk with teachers.

Every student should know a teacher or school staff member who will help them with their life and school problems and can connect them with more help in the community if necessary.

Early Childhood Pressure

Bring back play to kindergarten! The push to make kindergartners read and write before the first grade is almost universally accepted, with few considering the added stress students face or whether it’s developmentally inappropriate. Don’t set children up to hate reading.

From WebMD

It starts as soon as kindergarten. It turns play into competitive sport. It turns the joy of learning into a struggle to excel.

High School Advanced Placement 

Parents might worry about what their high school student misses if they do not sign up for AP classes (as many as possible) in high school, college-level work now normalized by the College Board, a nonprofit whose 2021 investment gains were $242,428,000.

Why are Americans still held hostage by the College Board? Isn’t it time to consider whether AP classes should continue driving high school academics?

High school students might find their strengths if given more and better learning options without the high-stressed standardized push for AP.

Why must high school students do college?

High Stakes Standardized Tests

Students could hardly recover from the Covid losses before corporate school reformers insisted they be tested. Many raised questions about these tests during the pandemic. But for years, studies have looked at the stress they cause, including the rise of cortisol levels in poor students. But in the end, they could (would) not give such testing up.

A 2019 study found that students from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, facing high poverty and crime, had more significant changes in the stress hormone before testing, affecting boys’ scores the most and creating stress bias.

Such assessment fails to address the needs of children, especially those with disabilities, twice-exceptional, or gifted students. It looks at students as data points and fails to care about who they are as individuals with hopes, dreams, and purpose.

And there are more of these assessments with social-emotional learning, which raises added privacy issues.

These tests have harmed public schools and teachers. How many students have unmeasured strengths and look like failures because they don’t score well on a test?

Watch as these tests increasingly move online, where student information is collected nonstop.

Homework

Many students still spend hours every night with homework, but most parents and teachers understand it could be reduced or eliminated. (See Alfie Kohn’s The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing), yet children, even young children, carry heavy backpacks back and forth from school. Why?

Middle School Career Choice

Should middle schoolers have to select a career? One of the ways they do this is through the online program Naviance, which collects information and may track students from a young age.

During pre-adolescence, children rapidly change physically and emotionally. The last thing they need is to be forced to make such a serious life decision, but corporations want a worker pipeline.

Nurture interests, but recognize that there’s still no consensus about whether high school students should make such decisions let alone middle schoolers.

Missing Curriculum

Many subjects like the arts, social studies, civics, science, and more are given little attention or are missing from the curriculum. These subjects students enjoy, and they help them like school. How much do students miss when they don’t have access to a well-rounded curriculum?

They may also help them with their emotional problems.

Socialization

Our schools are where students of every age and background come together. Children with disabilities especially wish to fit in with their peers and to be validated as human beings who are loved and cared for.

Public schools should provide opportunities for students to interact and learn about differences and similarities. Instead, they’ve removed these chances for socialization, like eliminating recess.

_______

So, why are 8-year-olds and teens depressed? Why is there so much anxiety? School pressure for the above reasons could be at least part of the reason, including focusing on making super students driven by corporate school reformers.

Adjustments to the public school structure might alleviate the stress children experience and improve their lives.

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Nancy Bailey

Nancy Bailey was a teacher in the area of special education for many years, and has a PhD in educational leadership from Florida State University. She has a...