At what Cost?

Featuring David Gleason

Dr. David Gleason is a child psychologist who has worked with high performing international schools for many years, and uncovered an inconvenient truth: many children and adolescents are suffering the effects of overscheduling and unreasonable demands on the part of teachers and parents, resulting in unprecedented rates of depression, anxiety and even suicide. Joins us as David explores, in a no holds barred conversation, the hidden costs of a “high quality education” and what we might do to alleviate them.

(Music by lesfm from Pixabay)

Episode notes:

  • More and more students were suffering from anxiety and depression in high performing schools.
  • Trying to capture student voices in terms of their experience with anxiety.
  • If the students that he had worked with could come back to being young, they would have said: “How hard does it have to get before adults change and they take a different approach? Do we have to kill ourselves before we see adults making changes in schools?”
  • In the past, we have responded in the same way we always had, giving them access to counselors and mental health providers.

We adults have to respect the integrity of the developing adolescent brain.

  • We have not looked at ourselves in the mirror and ask: “What are we doing in schools that has kids so anxious and so distressed in the first place?”
  • Adults want to have balance in their schools but they acknowledge that they overschedule their schools.
  • Adults at the same time were open and honest about wanting to have healthy balanced education in their schools and they wanted their kids to get enough sleep, to be to be well-balanced in all kinds of ways but, at the same time, they also acknowledged in the interviews that they over-scheduled their students, that they assigned way too much homework, that they expected their students to act and think like adults before they actually were adults.
  • In lots of ways they were setting students up for all of this stress and anxiety.
  • Adolescents themselves are under the weight of all of this pressure to succeed in all of these hyper scheduled, hyper worked schools.
  • I saw kids who were eating disordered, kids who were starving themselves, kids who were cutting themselves, self-injuring and ultimately kids who were talking about suicide and who were actually committed suicide.

The cost is anxiety, and anxiety shows up in all kinds of ways, and the cost is depression, and the cost is self-esteem. The cost is I’m not good enough to move on, the cost is comparison, comparing myself to the students who did move on, and how I feel about myself.

  • They are kids and not adults: they don’t have the brain development to function as adults yet, because they are just 14 and 15 and 16 years old, they are still developing.
  • What is remarkable is that once the pandemic hit, schools that previously said they couldn’t change or they wouldn’t change, they changed seemingly on a dime. They were forced to change and they are still making changes.
  • The argument of schools can’t change was out the window because now we know that schools can change when they have to.
  • Children, even below the high school level, get stressed out about these kind of exams.
  • There is a high price on doing well on these exams, so the older they get the more they get stressed. If students don’t do well in these kinds of exams they are categorized as kids who aren’t quite as bright as the kids who did better.
  • I would never say homework is not valuable. I think homework is valuable if it enhances the learning that’s happening in the classroom, but too often, homework is given as busy work or because it’s expected to be given.
  • Students feel burdened by all these hours and we also know is that students vary in their rates of getting homework done. Some students work very quickly and are able to move through these homework assignments with relative ease, whilst some students spend so much time reading every word and trying to get everything right for their homework that they are spending four and five hours a night on homework assignments as if 7 hours of school wasn’t already enough.

The cost is becoming less hidden. We are more aware of these days of the amount of anxiety and stress and pressure that students are experiencing and they are telling us, both directly and indirectly, how they feel, but they also tell us with their behavior and their behavior is self-destructive and their behavior is acting out negative feelings that they experience all the time, that they don’t know how else to manage.

  • There is tracking kids who were considered the smart kids and kids who were considered the less smart kids. Kids´ identities are wrapped up into these tracking modes.
  • Students who are struggling at the lower end kids, who are getting C’s, their self-esteem follows their grading. If they are used to just getting low grades, they do not think of themselves as very smart and very capable and it affects how they grow and how they begin to see themselves.
  • Many schools over schedule. I think that it is about just paying attention to what the students are actually capable of doing, since there are only 24 hours in the day. Many schools over schedule their students in so many ways that the students hardly have time to do their own homework, let alone sleep.
  • The students that we were talking about are not just over scheduled, but are also sleep-deprived because of it.
  • When students´ whole year is resting on one grade or one particular test. it is not fair because the student has put in all kinds of work in the learning process, which is itself a gradual one.

There is such a close marriage between self-esteem and school performance that self-esteem tends to be better among students who are who are performing better in school.

  • The school is the only game in town for kids until they are adults, it is where they are, it’s where they are expected to perform and if the kids, for various reasons, whether they have a particular learning challenges or because they are over scheduled, they can’t perform at maximum levels, the students feel blamed.
  • These parents openly admit that they, too, want to raise healthy and happy and well-developed children. They want their kids to be healthy above all else, but they also admit to nagging their kids to get their school work done and to pressuring the students by their own examples of their own successes and expecting their students to get all their work done when there isn’t enough time to get all of it done.
  • If you didn’t expect your kids to act and think like adults before they actually are adults, what would come up for you as parents? Every single parent I asked had basically the same response which was to say: we would feel like failures as parents; we would feel like we hadn’t done the best by our children to get our children into the best possible schools.
  • So parents find themselves in a bind of both wanting what’s best for their kids but also finding themselves playing part of the role of a why kids are feeling so anxious and stressed in the first place, just like the teachers in their schools.
  • I think that the buy in that the teachers are in and the buy in that the parents are in is one that is based in fear: fear that their children won’t be successful, fear that their children won’t do well.
  • I often say as parents our job is to put ourselves out of business so that our kids grow up to have lives of their own, when they are in charge of their own autonomy, their own decisions, their own pathways.
  • Most of the schools and conferences where I presented about this book, took it incredibly seriously, and wanted to start looking at their own schools and how they can work with parents.
  • I would be it would be focused on making sure that the students in our schools are not overworked and overwhelmed all the time, but they are allowed to develop in a way that is consistent with how their bodies are actually made that they are not forced to be someone they are not and that they are allowed to be who they are
  • Schools have begun to recognize with their different schedules and with different homework assignments and schedules of homework, that kids are actually, in some situations, feeling better they are getting more sleep, their schedules are more balanced and not doing as much work as they were before.
  • Some of these changes will stay, schools are genuinely surprised by how these changes are actually working out for them instead of against them, but I also think that they are lots and lots of schools that are waiting for the pandemic to be over so they can simply rush back to the way things were.

Wish: That the goal of education is not material success, that the goal of education is to educate every child according to his or her own capacities and to have them taste success that is available to them at every age. That the goal of education is to help children become more and more balanced for healthy, goal-directed human beings, and not make them feel like they are big failures if they don’t get into the top schools.


At What Cost?: Defending Adolescent Development In Fiercely Competitive Schools

Developmental Empathy

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