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Welcome to Faircrest High
Faircrest High School's values: Be punctual, prepared, tolerant, honest, respectful, responsible.
—posted on a sign in a FHS classroom
"I wish I could have a class full of students like Eve," says the chair of the history department, describing one of his "ideal" pupils. Eve has a 3.97 grade point average. She is ranked in the top 10 percent of her class and is enrolled in every honors and advanced placement level course available to her. Her résumé lists more than 25 school activities in which she has participated since her freshman year, ranging from field hockey and symphonic band to student council, Spanish club, and Junior Statesmen of America.
Another teacher recommends Kevin. He is well known at the school because of his friendly personality, his high grades, and his star performance on the school soccer team. For the past two years he has led a student-run community service project that delivers school supplies and clothing to less privileged children in neighboring towns. He takes classes from both the college preparatory track as well as the honors track, and he is in the highest possible courses for his grade level in three subject areas: English, history, and French. "He is so smart and such a nice boy," says the PE teacher, "if I had a son, I would want one like him."
Other names come up multiple times. Michelle, an exceptional drama and music student, is recommended for her acting performances, her top grades, and her enrollment in a special program called The Community Project. Teresa is an outstanding student in the new business theme house, excelling in business computing skills. She impresses teachers by her desire to "challenge" herself and her commitment to the Mexican Student Association. Finally, there is Roberto, who hopes to be the first in his immediate family to attend college. He is recommended for his diligence and dedication to this goal, as well as his successful record in a seminar course in which he was awarded the Coordinator's Commendation for Excellence.
"These students represent some of our best and brightest," a guidance counselor notes with pride. "They are good kids who work hard and do well. Actually, I could name many others just like them, but you only need five." Such was my introduction to Faircrest High.
I chose to study students at Faircrest because of its excellent reputation. The school, located in a wealthy California suburb, has one of the lowest dropout rates in the state, small class sizes, and a "long-standing tradition of hiring the best teachers to provide the highest quality instruction." The school's annual report lists college acceptance rates, scholastic aptitude test results, and the number of students commended for National Merit distinction, all of which rank Faircrest well above the state average. More than one-third of the student body is enrolled in honors and advanced placement (AP) courses, and many of these students "get accepted to universities such as Stanford, Harvard, [and] Yale."
Evidence of student success is everywhere. Teachers announce awards over the loudspeaker each morning: "Congratulations to Mr. Parker's class and the three winners of the state math competition ... [names are read aloud]. Overall, Faircrest came in second, just behind Alpine School this year. Let's come in first next time!" The school sends dozens of letters home congratulating students who maintain 4.0 averages each semester. Teachers post the best essays and test results on classroom walls, hanging banners with the names of students who earned perfect scores on advanced placement exams from the past ten years. And each month, every department honors an outstanding student, posting his or her photo on a central bulletin board and listing the names in the yearbook. In publications, on the walls, and over the loudspeakers, Faircrest's top students are impressive. They are articulate, focused, multitalented, and industrious. They are the pride of the public education system and the hope for the future.
Listen to the students, though, and you'll hear a different side of success. To keep up her grades, Eve sleeps just two to three hours each night and lives in a constant state of stress. Kevin faces anxiety and frustration as he attempts to balance the high expectations of his father with his own desire to "have a life" outside of school. Michelle struggles to find a way to pursue her love for drama without compromising her college prospects. And both Teresa and Roberto resort to drastic actions when they worry that they will not maintain the grades they need for future careers. All of them admit to doing things that they're not proud of in order to succeed in school.
These students explain that they are busy at what they call "doing school." They realize that they are caught in a system where achievement depends more on "doing"—going through the correct motions—than on learning and engaging with the curriculum. Instead of thinking deeply about the content of their courses and delving into projects and assignments, the students focus on managing the work load and honing strategies that will help them to achieve high grades. They learn to raise their hands even when they don't know the answers to the teachers' questions in order to appear interested. They understand the importance of forming alliances and classroom treaties to win favors from teachers and administrators. Some feel compelled to cheat and to contest certain grades and decisions in order to get the scores they believe they need for the future. As Kevin asserts:
People don't go to school to learn. They go to get good grades which brings them to college, which brings them the high-paying job, which brings them to happiness, so they think. But basically, grades is where it's at.
Values normally espoused in schools, such as honesty, diligence, and teamwork, necessarily come into question when the students must choose between these ideals and getting top grades. It is hard to be a team player when you are competing with peers for an A grade on the class curve. It is difficult to remain honest when so much in school depends on appearing alert and prepared, and when there is too much work to do and too little time in which to do it. The workload is so great and the expectations so high that these students feel obligated to give up recreation and sleep time as well as many aspects of a social life in order to succeed. Eve explains: "All year I sat and stared at the names on the banner in my history class, and it became my entire goal; ... I swore I would get my name up there if it killed me." Her devotion to success eventually earns her a spot on the history advanced placement banner. And though the pressure to succeed does not "kill" her, it does make her physically ill. She, like the others, has learned to do "whatever it takes" to get ahead, even if this means sacrificing "individuality, health, and happiness"—not to mention compromising ethical principles.
These students regret the frenetic pace of their school days and the undue stress they endure. They do not like manipulating the system or compromising their beliefs and values by kissing up, lying, and cheating. But they also do not like what they see as the alternative. They believe job prospects and income are better for college graduates, especially for those who earn credentials from prestigious universities. Lower grades and test scores might jeopardize future wealth and well-being. Hence, the students are victims of what I call the "grade trap." They feel bound by a narrow definition of success and resigned to a system in which ultimate satisfaction may not be attainable.
To their teachers, administrators, parents, and community, these students represent the "ideal." They are motivated to get ahead and work hard to achieve high grades. They participate in extracurricular activities, serve their communities, earn numerous awards and honors, and appear to uphold the values posted on the walls of the Faircrest classrooms. This book examines the behavior behind the success. The chapters, written as individual portraits, offer an inside view of the complexity of student life as well as the persistent dilemmas faced by everyone in the school system.
Although Faircrest High, along with most schools, claims to value certain character traits such as honesty and respect, the student experiences in the competitive academic environment reflect the conflicting goals inherent in the educational system today. As you read about the students—whose stories may resonate with "successful" high school students throughout this country—ask yourself the following questions: What kind of behavior is fostered by the expectations of the school community and by those outside of the school? Can students meet these expectations without sacrificing personal and academic goals and beliefs? Can parents encourage their children to strive for future success without pushing too hard or advocating questionable behavior? What can school teachers and administrators do in light of the constraints of college admission requirements and national education policies that spur competition for high grades and test scores? Are we fostering an environment that promotes intellectual curiosity, cooperation, and integrity, or are our schools breeding anxiety, deception, and frustration? Are they impeding the very values they claim to embrace? Are we preparing students well for the future? Are they ready for the world of work? Are they ready to be valuable members of our society? And is this the kind of education to which we as a nation should aspire?
Listen to the voices of these five students.
Excerpted from "Doing School" by Denise Clark Pope. Copyright © 2001 by Denise Clark Pope. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|1||Welcome to Faircrest High||1|
|2||Kevin Romoni: A 3.8 Kind of Guy||7|
|Pleasing Dad: The "Good" Student|
|Getting Furious: The Competitor|
|Motivated By Passion: The Engaged Learner|
|3||Eve Lin: Life as a High School Machine||29|
|"Going for the Maximum"|
|Survival of the Fittest|
|Enjoying the Process|
|4||Teresa Gomez: "I Want a Future"||50|
|Dancing as Engagement|
|"Wanting More": The Search for Engagement|
|5||Michelle Spence: Keeping Curiosity Alive?||81|
|An Alternate Course|
|Learning by Doing What You Love|
|6||Roberto Morales: When Values Stand in the Way||117|
|Playing by the Rules|
|7||The Predicament of "Doing School"||149|
|The Grade Trap|
|Constraints of the School System|
|We Get What We Bargain For|
|"If Only Things Could Be Different"|
|A.||General Information about the Students in the Study|
|B.||Common Student Behavior Exhibited in Pursuit of Success|
Posted April 24, 2012
Seeking to “…inspire other students and educators to make significant changes to improve the quality of secondary education,” Denise Clark Pope, past high school English teacher, tackles the controversial topic of America’s education system and the role it plays in fostering creative and exceptional thinking skills. A lecturer at Stanford University School of Education, Pope articulates what she learned from the semester long act of shadowing five “of [the] best and brightest” students from Faircrest High School. Pope’s detailed recollections of countless interviews, and observations of the students in their usual classroom environments, showcase the students’ personal lives and just how far they are willing to go to “achieve” high grades. Sacrificing physical well-being, mental health, and ethical guidance, the five successful students voice their frustrations with the education system and explain how they attempt to “do school.” The students resort to methods including: cheating, sleeping for very short periods of time each night, compromising values, and establishing teacher-student alliances. Despite the different motive for each student to simply “do school,” and not enjoy and understand the material, Pope identifies a common source of the stress: becoming “successful” after college. Pope’s detailed encounters with each student in separated chapters showcase the severe differences between each student and the way they “do school.” Parents, students, teachers, and administrators: “‘Doing School,’” is an eye-opening book that answers, “What kind of behavior is fostered by the expectations of the school community and by those outside of the school?” Any reader interested in a solution to develop an environment that promotes “…intellectual curiosity, cooperation, and integrity,” and not “…anxiety, deception, and frustration,” should absolutely read this insightful book.
Posted May 10, 2006
One of the main ideals of education is to teach students to be honest, responsible, diligent, and morally upstanding. When society looks at our successful students, they see these young people as representative of all those ideals. However, if you look closely, you would be surprised how these top students really think and behave under the education system. Denise Clark Pope, the author of ¿Doing School¿- How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students, embarked on a journey to find the unheard voices of the students, and conveyed their experiences and their perspectives in order to understand how they think and use that information to create a better educational system. Pope did her research in Faircrest High School which is located in a wealthy California suburb. She chose this school because it had an excellent reputation, and had a diverse population of students where about 95 percent of the school¿s graduates attend college. Based on multiple recommendations from the teachers and administrators, she picked 5 students, who were considered successful by their adult peers, for her research. These 5 students represented a different part of the spectrum of the tenth and eleventh grade student population, having differences in gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background and academic interests. Pope shadowed these 5 students over the course of 8 months, observing their behavior in classrooms, conducting talks and interviews on a weekly basis, and using student journals, essays, and class notes to figure out how the students felt about school environment and the curriculum. Pope felt that in order to gain their trust and cooperation from the students, she did not interview teachers, parents, or administrators, making her research mainly based on the students¿ perspectives. From the perspective of an outside observer, one would think that Faircrest High School¿s success is largely due to the fact that the students are hardworking, multitalented, and responsible, upholding the ideals of the education system. However, if you listen to the students and you would get a different side of the story of success. These 5 students revealed that they were busy ¿doing school.¿ They were part of a system in which success and achievement came from doing certain things and not from learning and engaging with the curriculum. They learned how to manipulate the system so that they knew what to do to get the better grade. Instead of being genuinely interested and engaged in the content, the students were more focused on finding ways to cut corners with their work load and developing ways to get high grades. Some of these strategies to get high grades include forming alliances with teachers and administrators to get on their good side and hopefully take advantage of that for their personal gain, cheating in exams, and to challenge certain grades and decisions, hoping that teachers and administrators would give in to their complaining and comply with them. The students had learned from their parents and the rest of society that wealth is the key to a happy future and in order to get money you need a high paying job which you have a better chance of getting if you got into an Ivy League university. In order to get into these Ivy League schools you need to obtain the perfect 4.0 GPA, and stand out from the rest of the crowd by participating in as many AP and honor classes, and extracurricular activities that you can manage. The expectation to succeed compounded with the huge workload had made the students felt that they needed to give up recreation, sleep time, health and other parts of their social life in order to succeed. They had developed a mentality that they need to do whatever it took to succeed, even if it meant sacrificing their personal happiness and in some cases their moral compass. The students needed to get high grades in order to have a better chance of attending a prestWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 1, 2006
Though it appears undeniable that all students struggle with interpreting the numerous mixed signals that they receive, it hardly seems fair or even justifiable to assert that all students are ¿stressed-out¿ from the desire to succeed. This however, is exactly what Pope seems to suggest. In fact her initial claim can be found in the title where she unabashedly blames ¿us¿ for creating students that are stressed out and materialistic. Such a claim by itself seems too ambitious, but becomes even more so when the reader discovers the type of study she used to come to such a conclusion. She picked a handful of students from one school in a wealthy suburb of California. At this point she has already limited the degree of transfer her findings could have by simply limiting her sample size. As if that were not enough, she picks a setting that is far unlike the majority of American schools. To make it worse, she selects the students that were considered to be the top performers in that particular school. Her first mistake is perhaps the most forgivable. It is difficult for one person to sample more than a few students repeatedly for an extended period of time. She quite possibly did not have the time or resources to include a larger group. Nevertheless, she is guilty of breaking a fundamental tenant of any research that attempts to apply the observations from a group of people to society as a whole. The larger the sample size, the more accurate one¿s conclusions are. The inverse is equally true. Instead of making blanket statements about the problems of society, she should have realized that her small samplings could only apply to a smaller group rather than to the nation in general. The second error she made is in picking students from only one school. By limiting her research to those living in California in what she describes to be an affluent area, Pope simultaneously limits the application of her conclusion to other states, other districts, and even other schools. Again, she has disobeyed the unwritten rules of research by neglecting to select a random sampling of students that could represent more than one specific area. This neglect results in a conclusion that lacks any provable correlation to anything outside of her immediate sampling. A third error, and in my opinion her most offensive, is in her decision to pool the most successful. In the book she plainly states that all the students were recommended to her by the principal and the teachers. She explains that they were at the top of their classes academically and at times socially as well. Such a desire to gather the most successful would not be problematic if her ultimate goal was to prove that high-achievers often struggle with the dilemmas presented in her book. However, she seems to have no qualms in relating that to all students, an act that I find misguided and ridiculous. It seems only logical that those who are the most concerned with academic success would also be the ones that are easily stressed out. Her hints that all students become burnt out are unfounded and completely unjustifiable. For example, it is unlikely that students who focus on sports more than on grades experience the same type of stress that academics can bring to others, and yet such students often strive for and achieve success as well. Ultimately, Pope¿s findings are valid, but her applications are drastically overemphasized. The book should have been titled, ¿Doing School: How a community in a wealthy Californian suburb may be creating a group of 5 high-achievers that are stressed-out, materialistic, and miseducated.¿ Any attempt to apply this conclusion to a larger group is overly ambitious, and equally narrow-minded.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 27, 2003
Who are our high school 'achievers'? What are their goals? What are their daily lives like, and how do we define 'success in education'. Certainly Denise Clark Pope's investigation into the engagement level of several high school high achievers begins to ask these questions. This text made me re-think what the goals of attending any educational program are... I am eager to read what I hope will be a follow up examining the long term effects of superficial engagement with learning and the focus students place upon extrinsic achievement at all costs. 'Doing School' is recommmended for all related to education - parents, teachers, counselors, administrators... but most of all - STUDENTS !Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.