CTFD High School, You're Not College

by Melissa L. Fenton
Elnur / Shutterstock

A year ago, I completed the most painfully frustrating experience of my life — the college application process for my firstborn son. If you haven’t had the unadulterated pleasure of filling out 500 forms, rec letters, scholarship apps, and the infamous FAFSA, brace yourself.

Then again, if you’ve got a high-schooler, I can bet you’ve been bracing yourself a lot these last few years. And I’m not talking about the regular teen angst and adolescent moodiness that befalls all of us; I’m talking about the over-the-top stressfully competitive insanity that American high schools has spawned. So insane, in fact, that after my next son finishes high school in a year, I’m seriously considering homeschooling my other children for high school.

Why? Well, let’s just say high school ain’t what it used to be, and I’m glad I went through it in the late ’80s instead of today. As a matter of fact, if high school doesn’t CTFD pretty soon, we will continue to witness our teenagers suffer from unhealthy amounts of stress and anxiety, ultimately taking those problems with them to college, but without the luxury of any close family support.

Case in point: Did you know there is such a thing as an 8.75 GPA? Yep, there sure is, because everything in high school now is super-sized, including a good old-fashioned A. You earned an A in American History Honors and only got 4 points for it? Silly you, didn’t you know you need to upsize your entire schedule to work the system and garner the most GPA bonus points you can?

While honors classes used to be reserved for above-average kids, such is not the case anymore. Honors classes are for the “average achievers”, while any student even bordering on above-average most certainly needs to be in the AP or dual-enrollment class. A high school transcript sans six to eight AP classes simply will not cut it anymore.

And inflated GPAs and padded class schedules aren’t the only things transforming our country’s high school students into resume-building robots. High-schoolers are graduating with a bevy of college credits from AP and DE classes under their belts, and while this can be a financial blessing to many, we have 18-year-olds setting foot on college campuses as juniors and being forced to immediately declare a major. Deciding what you want to do with your life at 18, and before you’ve even arrived at college, doesn’t usually end well.

Spitting out overachieving kids isn’t the only thing that has today’s high schools jumping the shark. High school athletics are borderline collegiate athletics, with many schools employing full-time sports trainers and team coaches, and I don’t mean the kind who double as the school’s driver’s ed teacher. Although they’d deny it until they’re blue in the face, some even go so far as to recruit student athletes to attend their schools, and private schools are even offering tuition credit to their all-stars. Practices are held every single day of the week and on weekends, along with mandatory summer practices.

Extracurriculars, clubs, and student government organizations are following suit, all of them stressing leadership, service, fundraising, and innovation — with required meetings, mandatory projects, and unwavering commitments. All of this is expected from 14–17-year-olds, and we wonder why are teenagers are so exhausted and overwhelmed.

I was recently asked by a new high school graduate if I would write her a letter of recommendation for college sorority rush. This lovely young lady forwarded me her resume, and as I read it, I had to continually remind myself this girl was 18 years old. Eighteen years old, with a four-page resume overflowing with accolades, awards, honor societies, service, and scholarships — it made me feel seriously inadequate. And then I had another thought: There’s a great chance her — and the other 5,000 women just like her who spent the last four years achieving — are going to arrive on their college campuses completely burned out.

I’ve seen it firsthand, the do-it-all high school students getting to college and taking a collective nap for four years while they try to unwind their way out of society’s overbearing pressures to be “perfect.” Or they attempt to maintain the same schedules, only to find themselves suffering from depression and anxiety, something nobody wants to experience, especially away from loved ones, and something we are seeing an unhealthy epidemic of on campuses around the country.

Currently, there is an increased trend toward both alternative high schools and homeschooling throughout the high school years — years that homeschoolers used to shy away from because of the tougher curriculum they’d be required to teach. And with increased state-funded online virtual school options for high school, as well as the rise of magnet and vocational high school programs, maybe we will begin to see a more positive shift in schooling our teenagers in ways that make them blossom, not wilt.