Weekend Assorted Links

1. Tour du Rwanda? Click on the “continue reading” link to be transported to Central Africa.

2. My mom, who died four years ago today, liked to say, “Variety is the spice of life.” Apparently, not everyone agrees. Related, dad was a serious PB&J guy.

3. As Students Struggle With Stress and Depression, Colleges Act as Counselors. One reason tuition continues to rise much faster than inflation.

4. Is this the answer to my terrible, no good, awful commute?

5. I know some Specific Northwest Pressing Pausers who make regular trips to the Swamp. Instead of exacerbating climate change, maybe they should consider this.

6. Why some parents pay bribes to get their kids into more selective colleges.

The Overworked American

From True Wealth by Juliet Schor:

“Not surprisingly, over the last twenty years, a large number of U.S. employees report being overworked. A 2004 study found that 44 percent of respondents were often or very often overworked, overwhelmed at their job, or unable to step back and process what’s going on. A third reported being chronically overworked. These overworked employees had much higher stress levels, worse physical health, higher rates of depression, and reduced ability to take care of themselves than their less-pressured colleagues. Adverse effects of long hours, stress, and overwork have found in a number of studies, for a variety of physical, mental, and social health outcomes.”

Phenomenon like that inspired this blog’s name many moons ago. So, as the calendar year draws to a close, let’s step back and process what’s going on.

Why do so many U.S. workers subject themselves to the “adverse effects of long hours, stress, and overwork”? Is it because, as one of my friends insists, they have no choice, because their families have grown accustomed to uber-comfortable, expensive-to- maintain lifestyles? Is it as simple as mindless materialism or trying to keep pace with one’s neighbors conspicuous consumption? What if my friend went to his family and said, I want to invest less time at work and more strengthening our relationships and my physical, mental, and social health?

Overworked U.S. readers, what is keeping you from reducing your personal or family overhead and going half-time at work? Or if your employer doesn’t provide a half-time option, finding a different job that would require less of you so that you could prioritize, rather than continue neglecting, your physical, mental, and social health?

I don’t think my friend would admit it, but I’m convinced, despite his sporadic complaining about his work, he greatly prefers being at work to not. He does not have many interests outside of work. He’s good at what he does. Being good at what he does gives him an identity.

Maybe the central challenge for the overworked American isn’t figuring out how to down-size his or her lifestyle, it’s how to craft an identity from non-work interests and activities.

Postscript: Mea culpa. I should’ve woven this sentence in from Schor too. “Of course, for many earning less money is simply impossible, because their wages are too low.”

 

 

“Rip Your Hair Out” Pressure

That’s a Los Angeles, California Harvard-Westlake high schooler describing her Advanced Placement heavy course load. HW is L.A.’s preeminent private high school.

A recent article in the LA Times described it as a place “. . . where some families view anything short of an Ivy League admission as failure.” Next week in my graduate sociology of education course, we’re watching a documentary titled “The American Dream at Groton”. Groton is the East Coast version of HW. Check out the tuition at Groton.

HW thrives because even very wealthy parents suffer from economic anxiety. Consequently, they’re desperate to extend their privilege to their children. They think HW = highly selective college = a high paying job = a comfortable life. But not necessarily a meaningful one. Parents don’t send their children to HW to ponder what makes life most meaningful.

But to HW’s credit, apparently students sometimes end up doing just that in classes like “Ethics: Philosophical Traditions and Everyday Morality”. After fourteen students dropped out two years ago citing depression—some at the school have “pulled back”.

Like Matt LaCour, the baseball coach. Recently a player of LaCour’s told him he wanted to try out for the school play, “Hairspray.” Lacour encouraged him to saying, “I’ve got to allow a kid to find himself in high school.”

Theater arts instructor, Ted Walch, said he would like to see more time for his students “to be bored and to daydream and to be kids.” “We are a powerful enough school,” he explained, “that if we pull back just a bit it’s not going to hurt anyone’s chances to get into Harvard, Yale, or Brown.”

The school is planning a workload study this year to determine whether demands on students have become excessive. HW limits homework to three hours per subject per week—more time than most college students spend studying in a typical week. The school’s new president, who was at Groton previously, has identified “academic pressure and stress” as a recurring theme and tension needing more attention.

Private elite schools always do a better job preparing students for selective colleges than the larger, much more economically and intellectually diverse world. But HW, and the new president in particular, deserve credit for recognizing that, in his words, “The great challenge. . . in schools where excellence is a value is to simultaneously have balance as a value.”

It’s important to have some ambition, the problem is when students become hyper-competitive and sacrifice their integrity and health in pursuit of especially ambitious goals. To razzle-dazzle college admission committees, many high schoolers think they must push themselves endlessly, and in the process they often end up cheating and ignoring mental and physical warning signs.

We need to rethink and redefine ambition as fulfilling one’s potential to effect positive change in some small corner of the world. Instead of striving to do well in school in order to graduate with honors, earn lots of money, and gain social status, do well to become the very best nurse, social worker, businessperson, teacher, writer, plumber, and citizen as possible.

Schools should define ambition more broadly and encourage alternative, healthier, more selfless forms of it. Don’t just single out the National Merit scholarship winners and those accepted at Ivy League schools. Pay equal attention to students who serve others on or off campus. And those who show improvement or demonstrate excellence in the whole gamut of extracurricular activities—including the arts and minor sports.

That’s one way to keep students from ripping their hair out.