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Education

A Passage from William Deresiewicz's <i>Excellent Sheep</i>

A Passage from William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep

William Deresiewicz (who will be speaking at our upcoming conference on Friday afternoon, 4/28!) made waves in 2008 when the American Scholar published his essay, “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education.” His full length book from 2011, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite & The Way to a Meaningful Life, expounded upon the […]

The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils

The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils

They say you can trace the exact moment the Great British Public fell out of love with Morrissey to the release of his 1996 album, Southpaw Grammar. It sounds like just the sort of brazen pronouncement rock critics love to make, more of a conversation-starter than a statement of fact. And yet, you can’t really […]

What Once Was Lost

What Once Was Lost

I have two older sisters who both grew up to be teachers. They are about ten years older than I am, and we lived in a very rural part of Wisconsin, and there was no cable or internet at our house. In other words, we had a lot of time on our hands, and my […]

Performancism 101: A Conference Breakout Preview

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!

The Graduates (Almost): Thoughts on Church and Worship

The Graduates (Almost): Thoughts on Church and Worship

This is Part 2 of a multi-part series about college, faith, and the expectations of millennials from the perspective of two near-graduates: David and Lizzie, Mockingbird’s finest interns. In our first “Millennials” post, Lizzie and I discussed the confluence of work and play in college and the uncertainties in discerning our next steps. In the second, we […]

The Graduates (Almost): Thoughts on College, Leisure, and Uncertainty for 'Millennials'

The Graduates (Almost): Thoughts on College, Leisure, and Uncertainty for ‘Millennials’

This is Part 1 of a multi-part series about college, faith, and the expectations of millennials from the perspective of two near-graduates: David and Lizzie, Mockingbird’s finest interns. Emily Dickinson once wrote, “I have perfect confidence in God and his promises & yet I know not why, I feel the world holds a predominant place […]

Sex Is Nothing, Until It Isn't

Sex Is Nothing, Until It Isn’t

This one comes to us from Scott Larousse. Last spring I was sitting in on a seminar on marriage at a prominent California university. The professor put forth a hypothetical about whether the state should recognize an intimate relationship based on a shared love of muscle-cars (rather than sex). Like a sort of intimate muscle-car […]

We Are Volunteers (Even on the First Day of School)

We Are Volunteers (Even on the First Day of School)

Prior to this academic year, I thought that there were certain criteria for being a Room Mom. Specifically, that you needed to be blonde, not tall, have had a previous career in JV cheerleading, be “good at” Pintrest, have the organizational skills of a C.E.O, and perhaps have married someone who enjoys shopping at Michael’s […]

The "Trigger-Warning" Life

The “Trigger-Warning” Life

Universities have historically always been on the leading edge of American cultural change. The university has, or at least tries to be, the place where new ideas are tested, refined, and put into meaningful action. Today’s college students become tomorrow’s leaders, which is to say that the recent explosion of “trigger warning” policies are not […]

Just Cause You Feel It: Emotional Coddling in a Culture of Offense

Just Cause You Feel It: Emotional Coddling in a Culture of Offense

I promise you, I had no intention of writing about this subject again. Not for a long while at least. I’m talking about the whole culture of offense/outrage/oversensitivity/correctness/humorlessness/what-have-you that seems to have overtaken our nation’s universities, and by extension vast swaths of media, social and otherwise. It may be one of the primary places where […]

Passionate vs. Cool: Performancism in College

Passionate vs. Cool: Performancism in College

Set to start my senior year of college, a few interactions from my first semester in Charlottesville still stick with me. One was a question my advisor asked me as I anxiously slumped into a chair in his office for the first time. The second is a comment I made over lunch with a professor I […]

Penn Faces and Campus Tragedies: More Notes on the Suicide Epidemic

Penn Faces and Campus Tragedies: More Notes on the Suicide Epidemic

Here’s why I didn’t want to write about Julie Scelfo’s recent article “Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection” in The NY Times: It is not because we’ve written about the phenomenon too many times already–though we have. It is because writing about it again only serves to underline how futile-seeming these kinds of reflections […]