Phi Beta Cons

‘Self-Esteem’ Still Not Fooling Students

For all those people who think that our education system is or should be a self-esteem-focused hugbox where mediocre and gifted students alike can go to be told they’re special, the Chronicle of Higher Education has some surprising news: despite the best efforts of Sixties educators, education is still cutthroat. Story below:

This year’s freshmen reported record-low levels of emotional health, according to the latest results of the University of California at Los Angeles’s national survey of first-year undergraduates. At the same time, more students gave themselves high marks for ambition to achieve.

College counselors say the two are clearly related, as students put more pressure on themselves to excel.

The percentage of students reporting good or above-average emotional health dropped from 55.3 percent in 2009 to 51.9 percent in 2010, according to “The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 2010″ survey. That marks the lowest point since 1985, when the survey first asked the question.

Denise Hayes, the president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, says the data confirm national trends.

“The intensity of the issues that students come in with is increasing,” says Ms. Hayes, who is also the director of Student Health and Counseling Services at the Claremont University Consortium.

Depression, formerly at the forefront of students’ emotional-health concerns, has taken a back seat to anxiety, Ms. Hayes says. Of the freshmen surveyed, 75.8 percent rated their drive to achieve as above average or in the highest 10 percent, and 29.1 percent said they felt overwhelmed in high school.

Ms. Hayes says that increasing ambition plays a central role in students’ declining levels of emotional health. For some students, she says, that drive stems from worries over money.

Wait, wait, wait. Why are these kids worrying about money, of all things, in their first year of college? Haven’t their teachers told them that money is a symptom of a corrupt neoliberal fascist tyranny that commodifies and essentializes society’s most vulnerable members?

Maybe, but if this is story is any guide, that line won’t stick for a generation that is facing post-college life with the awareness of a recession. They want to make a living, “social justice” and mental health be damned. With a worker-bee attitude like this, I wonder if this means we’re seeing the anti-Boomers already in action.


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