An overwritten account of the overachiever culture that is stressing out teenagers.
Robbins, an investigative journalist who has previously explored the secrets of Yale’s Skull and Bones society (Secrets of the Tomb, 2002) and those of college sororities (Pledged, 2004), returns after ten years to her old high school, Walt Whitman, in Bethesda, Md., to see how today’s students are coping with the pressures of competition. Over the course of roughly one school year, she followed nine students, who are given pseudonyms and descriptive labels indicating how they are perceived by their classmates: super star, teacher’s pet, slacker, etc. Most are seniors working extremely hard to get accepted into a prestigious college or university; one is a Harvard freshman struggling to find his way in that setting. Sandwiched between these repetitive and minutely detailed profiles are some informative, short pieces on the deleterious impact of No Child Left Behind, issues with SAT testing, the problematic ranking of colleges and universities by U.S. News & World Report, the obsession with Ivy League and other top-ranked schools, the hypercompetiveness of parents, the questionable role of private college consultants, the effects of adolescent sleep deprivation, the rise in teenage suicides and the pressures on teachers to inflate grades. The author’s interviews with college admissions officers may assuage some parents’ anxiety that their kids’ getting into the right nursery school is the necessary first step toward a prestigious college that will launch their offspring on a financially successful career. Her report on the process by which children applying to kindergarten at Trinity School in New York are evaluated captures that phenomenon well. Robbins winds up with a list of actions that high schools, colleges, college counselors, parents and students can take to change the culture of overachievement, which she sees as pervading our educational system.
Some worthwhile research here, buried under an off-putting amount of teenage trivia.