As the retreat group started to tell me more about why they felt such a collective sense of stress and pressure, a few major themes emerged. All of them said they voluntarily get their grades pushed to their phones through notifications. It took me a minute to realize just how annoying and agonizing that must feel. It means that at any moment, they could find out they bombed a test or missed an assignment. Instead of having the time to mentally prepare to receive a bad grade when a teacher returns an assignment, they receive a notification as soon as the teacher posts their grade to the online portal they all use. Further, their parents sometimes receive the same notifications.At least some young Americans, it seems, are told all the time that 1) finding a decent career is hard, and 2) the only way to do so is to grind hard in school. You need to think all the time about your future or you won't have one.
In addition to grades, they use multiple apps such as Remind through which their teachers can send them updates or reminders about upcoming assignments and tests. Like their grades, these can come through to their phone at any time of day or night. . . .
As we continued to talk over the course of that school year, I also noticed how much their schools force them to think about their careers at increasingly young ages. The kids often used workplace lingo to describe their lives. One sixth-grader talked about a school assignment in which she had to develop a life plan that included her future career, which schools she should attend, and what she ought to major in at her chosen university. . . .
One afternoon, I sat in our church’s common area with a sophomore. “Ugh, I’m so stressed about picking classes for next year,” she said holding up her course registration manual. It looked more extensive than I remembered from my time in high school. I asked to flip through it for a minute — it was 43 pages long.
Significant parts of the manual were organized by “career clusters” that encouraged students to take classes to prepare them for future work in fields like agriculture or finance. These clusters, the manual claimed, are “designed as a tool to assist in streamlining the path through which students meet their educational goals and are ultimately employed in high-skill, high-wage, or high-demand occupations and nontraditional fields.” After doing some research, I learned that these career cluster classes are part of a nationwide movement in states across the country.
I asked my sons about this and they agreed. They feel like their peers are being herded through a meaningless educational maze using the prod that if they don't do as they are told they will never amount to anything, which I guess is how my sons have all ended up fantasizing about dropping out and living in a remote cabin.
I don't know if most kids are really being pushed harder about future careers than they used to be, but if they are I can see how that might make some of them anxious.