Harvard University Steering Students Away From Educational Fast Track

For parents who felt intuitively that Waldorf Education was the right thing for their children, the Harvard University Admissions Office is now offering support for those instincts.  Harvard Dean of Admissions, William Fitzsimmons, has co-authored a message to aspiring students and their parents entitled, “Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation.”

The message, which is posted on the school’s website, warns students to get off the fast track of achievement that dominates our culture.

Last year, the Steiner Times reported that the nation’s largest professional organization of early childhood educators caution against pushing kindergarteners and early elementary students too quickly into academic work. Now, an icon of higher education is issuing its own version of the same warning.  Why?

Noting the prevalence of self-destructive behaviors on college campuses and necessary expansion of campus counseling services, Fitzsimmons says, “It is common to encounter even the most successful students, who have won all the ‘prizes,’ stepping back and wondering if it was all worth it.”

The Harvard dean says teens who have spent their youth amassing credentials in order to get into a selective college run the risk of not developing their full potential as human beings.  He cites interviews with successful students and alums who “give the impression that they are dazed survivors of some bewildering lifelong boot camp.”

For parents of today’s youth, the dean’s message includes a section called, “Some Early Remedies,” which is based on conversations and counseling sessions with Harvard students and alumni. It urges families to bring back “downtime” during the early, middle, and high school years.  Unscheduled time during vacations and weekends, space in the daily schedules to allow for the proverbial family dinner time, limited screen time, and summers which permit vacation or an old-fashioned summer job (instead of a schedule crammed with resume-building internships and activities) top their list of recommendations.

Such remedies, Fitzsimmons says, can allow young people “ample free time to reflect, to recreate (e.g., to ‘re-create’ themselves without the driving pressure to achieve as an influence), and to gather strength for the years ahead.” Additionally, he advises students to “choose a high school not simply based on ‘brand name’ or reputation, but because it is the best fit.”

And in a section entitled “Using the Senior Year,” the dean laments that many students find the last year of high school the most stressful time of their lives.  He would like to see high schools help students find ways to pursue learning for its own sake, not simply for grades.  Further, he asserts that “colleges can help themselves as well as their prospective students by declaring (and demonstrating) that they are not judged simply by the number of AP credits amassed at the end of senior year.”

“Parents and students alike could profit from redefining success as fulfillment of the student’s own aims, usually yet to be discovered,” the report advises. The fact remains that there is something very different about growing up today.  Even those who are doing extraordinarily well, the ‘happy warriors’ of today’s ultra-competitive landscape, are in danger of emerging perhaps a bit less human as they try to keep up with what may be increasingly unrealistic expectations.”

~For the Steiner Times newsletter, Fall 2003