Today's young people are more stressed than ever. They are facing a dismal job market. Tuition is soaring and student loan debt is at an all-time high. As Phillip Brown, Hugh Lauder, and David Ashton argue in The Global Auction, globalization means greater competition for jobs, but also greater competition for good schools. We can no longer rely on the common wisdom that if kids work hard at school, get good grades, and go to college they will be set for life. A college degree is a requirement for most good jobs, but no longer a guarantee of one.
Consequently, kids feel pressure to not only do well on tests and in school, but in their out-of-school activities as well. Trends indicate that families with the means to do so are investing more and more in enrichment activities to give their kids a leg up. Whether it is the robotics club, violin lessons or athletics, too often it is less about genuine interest and more about padding resumes for college.
It's an arms race in achievement -- and the cost isn't just a financial one. Studies have documented how it used to be the struggling student who was more likely to cheat, but today college bound students are just as likely to do so when it comes to high-stakes tests and exams. Other research shows that wealthy teens suffer higher rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse than teens in other socioeconomic groups. The pressure to succeed along narrow paths is exacting a staggering cost on the values and well being of our children.
It is no wonder my daughter wants to mess around with the guitar and the Internet and pursue some interests at a pace that doesn't feel like the relentlessly scheduled pressure of school and structured activities. For her, the Internet has been a lifeline for self-directed learning and connection to peers. In our research, we found that parents more often than not have a negative view of the role of the Internet in learning, but young people almost always have a positive one.
When we interview young people, they will talk about how the Internet makes it easy for them to look around and surf for information in low risk and unstructured ways. Some kids immerse themselves in online tutorials, forums, and expert communities where they dive deep into topics and areas of interest, whether it is fandom, creative writing, making online videos, or gaming communities. They also, of course, talk about spending time hanging out with their peers, but this too is a lifeline that is sorely lacking in many of today's teen's schedules.
In his state of the union address, President Obama took universities and colleges to task for rising tuition costs and their failure to foster skills that connect young people to job opportunity. Obama's remarks reflect our economic realities, as well as our longstanding assumption that college is where career-relevant learning will happen. We are also seeing a growing push for universities to put their offerings online, in the form of "massive open online courses" in addition to long standing online, distance, and extension offerings. While I would be the last one to argue against getting more good educational material online and accessible, I do question whether our focus should be exclusively on classroom instruction.