Here is the first of this year’s conference breakout previews–sneak peeks into what we’ll be talking about during the breakout sessions at Mockingbird’s NYC Conference April 14-16.

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Sometimes it seems like our culture sees its students as mythical creatures, glowing embodiments of youth and drive; they represent who we as a society will be “tomorrow.” Often the social structures of our student bodies reflect the structures in society more generally, and no where is this more true than in the stress-inducing standards of performance-based living. For students, achievement is identity. Sound familiar?

Students currently live in a no-fail world where any misstep feels like a plunge off the cliff of college admissions and the good life after that. A 4.0 GPA is no longer enough. To get where they (feel they) need to go, they need extracurriculars, Advanced Placement classes, awards, and honors. Consider The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, which encourages college-aspiring students to begin recording their achievements in an online portfolio–in ninth grade, four years in advance. One high school guidance counselor calls it an “arms race,” while over at The New Yorker, Matt Feeney declares this lifestyle as “poisonous,” saying that it not only affects students, but also parents: “I’m starting to resent the prospect of having my family life colonized and deformed by a system that, though it works through educational channels, doesn’t serve educational ends, or exacts extreme costs in exchange for a meagre educational payoff.” Ella Gonzalez, at The Huffington Post, writes: “If you happen to be entering your senior year of high school, first I’d like to say, congratulations and I am sorry,” followed by, “You are not in control of anything.” Various admissions blogs discuss suicide and the threat of it, post-rejection.

920x920Some say, fear not: admissions reforms are in the works. But as discussions about limiting extracurriculars and AP classes occupy the news, Feeney asks: “What new and more exacting model of self, in other words, will colleges be urging their teen-age aspirants to approximate?” Reform of the law cannot fulfill it, and any attempts to do so will inevitably result in the high-pressure lifestyle of what we’ve come to call “performancism.”

At this conference breakout session (2:15, Friday April 15), we are going to look at how fear and the need for control contribute to performancism, particularly among students. We’ll talk about stress and how we cope with it. We’ll point some fingers. And maybe, too, after all that, we’ll find a cure.

Pre-register here!