Culture of overwork contributes to student stress

Lia Sheahan, Staff Writer

With the rising epidemic of student stress, overwork and mental health issues, students are signing up for more and more advanced classes and programs than ever before. The question is- is allowing student’s lives to become this overcrowded even responsible?

According to the College Board, “Over the last 10 years, the number of U.S. public high school graduates who’ve taken an AP Exam has increased by 65 percent,” which provides some context towards the growing rates of mental illness and stress among students, as they are taking more advanced courses than previous generations.

A Pew Research study shows that out of the kids that are affected by the rising anxiety and depression rates, “61 percent of teens say they feel a lot of pressure to get good grades.”

Pew Research states that “Anxiety and depression are on the rise among America’s youth.” Kids these days have more to worry about at school, in the workplace, and in general than their parents, and even their grandparents.

With AP classes, extracurriculars, sports and political and social involvements, it is clear that the landscape of education and the mindset of the people within it is quickly growing and changing, as student care is left behind. It is time to address the culture that allows students to become overloaded, as well as the many ways that overwork is encouraged at both an administrative and social level.

Coupled with these new academic changes are cultural and social ones that prize students who push themselves with academically rigorous courses.

A finding by Georgetown University states that by 2020, “35 percent of the job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree,” and advanced courses in high school are one of the ways that students are told to achieve that. This leaves less time for relaxation and self care and more time spent preparing for the future and for college where students are told more work awaits.

Another aspect to this pressure is the social side of things, with peer pressure often being an aspect of a student’s academic life. An article on The Campanile says that “Students are constantly aware of what classes peers are taking and how they are pushing themselves academically, especially in their junior and senior years, making them extremely self-conscious about their selected courses.” With the rising rates of students taking advanced courses, some may find that they feel they are being left behind by their peers.

The modern American school system has a prized demographic: the student who stays up, who runs purely on caffeine and puts in 110 percent effort on every assignment they get. This student somehow balances every aspect of their life perfectly and without complaint, and exists without causing problems within the system they perform in.

The reality of this rhetoric isn’t only that it’s unattainable, unrealistic and unethical – it’s downright dangerous.

The workload of students, contrary to popular belief, is not a choice freely made because they want to ‘push themselves,’ but rather an attempt to adapt to an increasingly competitive college entrance system and working environment.

Entrepreneur Tim Leberecht says, “Silicon Valley’s technology startups and Wall Street’s big banks, in particular, offer up extreme examples of industries that notoriously engage in overwork, promoting it almost as a badge of honor,” which shows just how far the culture of overwork has permeated into our institutions, professional or otherwise.

As well as an intense schooling environment, students who wish to work also have an increasingly competitive working landscape to navigate as well.

Teaching students to function slightly better within a flawed system does not make the system more ethical. The question still stands: what can we do at ETHS to combat the culture of overworking? ETHS isn’t the corporate world just yet, and there can still be opportunities for the encouragement of a work-life balance. Students should be supported, cared for and encouraged outside of solely their productivity as workers, and ETHS is exactly the place for this.

Cutting out homework entirely is a route that other nations around the world have taken, with the hours of outside work being as-
signed in countries like Finland often two or more times less than in America, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Giving students a break between quarters or over certain weekends could also combat the anxiety of unfinished homework, and give students who are behind time to catch up.

The relationships that students forge with being able to manage their workload is one that they will carry for the rest of their lives.
Students deserve to learn at a pace where the work isn’t leaving the actual learning behind. Being able to take time off to relax is just as much a skill as working hard is, so why not teach it?