An extensive Sunday New York Times package examines the hyper-achieving girls of Newton North High School in Newton, Mass. The article takes the tack that all these girls are excelling in school, even more so than the boys, because they’ve had the chauvinistic obstacles removed from their paths.
What I see is a lot of girls who have never had a childhood, but who are completely focused—usually at the prompting of their parents—on preparing for some future life. Everything is about compiling a resume for college, right down to the college-name shirts everyone in the photos seem to be wearing.
It is also to see these girls struggle to navigate the conflicting messages they have been absorbing, if not from their parents then from the culture, since elementary school. The first message: Bring home A’s. Do everything. Get into a top college — which doesn’t have to be in the Ivy League, or one of the other elites like Williams, Tufts or Bowdoin, but should be a “name” school.
The second message: Be yourself. Have fun. Don’t work too hard.
And, for all their accomplishments and ambitions, the amazing girls, as their teachers and classmates call them, are not immune to the third message: While it is now cool to be smart, it is not enough to be smart.
They take all Honors classes, except for the three or four even more rigorous Advanced Placement classes. They pay thousands of dollars for SAT preparation tutoring. They do 40, 50, 60 hours of homework each week. They participate in sports, theater, after-school clubs; play musical instruments; have jobs.
This is not unusual for high school kids. Is it any wonder one of the top three leading causes of death for teens is suicide? (The other two are accidents and murder.)