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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Race to Nowhere

A recent article from the Washington Post talks about a documentary by a lawyer who is raising kids, kids who are experiencing extreme stress due to pressure to succeed. This is pretty well what I remember from my high school experience back in the 90's.

From the article:

"It was as if their private worries had come to life on screen: Teenagers so pressured to get A's, to fill their college resumes with sports and music and language, they start losing their grip. Long nights of homework leave them exhausted. Stress becomes stomach pain and anorexia and depression. Some turn to cheating or pills. Others just give up...

... The film is attracting notice from New York to California, where mom-turned-filmmaker, Vicki Abeles, a 48-year-old lawyer, launched the documentary project as she set out to understand the stresses her children, now ages 16, 14 and 11, were experiencing.

One daughter had become physically sick as she struggled with the demands of school. Then, several months into Abeles's effort, a teenager in her community committed suicide after getting a failing math grade, a tragedy Abeles says intensified her commitment to making the film.

"I think there is tremendous pressure on all kids to get the grade, to get the test score ... which is creating an epidemic of unhealthy kids who are also arriving at college and at the workplace unprepared," Abeles said in an interview.

Race to Nowhere

Some of this Race to Nowhere has to do with the nature of professional schooling and the fact that you can still make a decent salary in America if you can get into and graduate from the "right" professional school - law school/med school/dental school.

However, the entire American high school - college - law school treadmill has severe problems associated with it, namely that the number of new lawyers minted every year far outstrips the actual demand for lawyers.

In law school, you need to get the highest grades and go to the best schools in order to get a high paying "BigLaw" job ($165,000 in NYC these days) when you get finished. Not that these jobs are pleasant, but they do allow you to pay off student loans.

For many new lawyers it's worse than a Race to Nowhere, given the overproduction of lawyers and the failure of the bubble economy to reflate.

The equation for this economy is Stress (High School) + More Stress (College) + Even More Stress (Law School) + Six Figure Debt = No Job + Six Figure Debt.

And one of the problems is that the higher education system, particularly law schools, only has to worry about the continued issuance of sovereign debt to fund the student loans. Law schools don't have to worry about whether the students can actually repay the debt. So tuition can go up year after year at a significant premium to the rate of inflation.

And the problem is continuing to get worse as the economy continues to fail to recover.

At least interest rates are low these days, right?

Okie can probably add his own insights from his entire law school/law firm adventures.


OkieLawyer said...

I have written about this before.

For instance, I pointed out the static social mobility that we have in America, partly tied to educational resources in intergenerational poverty.

So have other blogs I have followed (at least related subjects). Like this one from a high school principal in Oklahoma: Educated Eichmanns, which asks the question: just what does it mean to be educated?

Debt and Taxes;

Bob Herbert: College Costs Making Us Less Competitive (also, read the comments);

College Graduates are Struggling with Debt; and

American Roulette (the New Casino Economy).

Most of my posts have been geared toward the stress that educational debt puts new graduates into. However, the stress of getting into "the best" is also there.

I was talking with a woman about all of the extra stress we are putting kids through in school. But it is also true there is much more to learn.

Is this what you are looking for JP?

JP said...

Yes it was, Okie. Thanks.

Dink said...

Interesting stuff, JP. I have to admit that I was still under the impression that a law degree was still a "golden ticket". Now it sounds more like being a rap star; the rewards are great, but there are only a few spaces available.

About the stress on kids, I was just talking to a dad of a 7th grader. Apparently nowadays there is incredible interaction between kids, teachers, parents, and the net. Kids can watch there GPA change with every assignment they get graded. Seems like a sound recipe for a generation of neurotics. Poor little buggers.

Regarding college debt, an article by Mish a few weeks back seemed to indicate that one's marriage prospects are being dampened by student loans. You have to disclose to your beloved your amount of debt load. Much like other past poor choices such as felonies and unseemly microbes :)

Dr John said...

Interesting stuff. I am not sure when it was less stressful to grow up when the the golden age of being a child was.

Myself if I could choose I would have wish to have come of age in the late for early 50's.

OkieLawyer said...

I just put up a post on my blog: Machiavellian Economics (my first post of substance since 2008).

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
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  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits