One of the most common objections I hear from US audiences about the Indian and Chinese emphasis on study during the two million minutes of high school is how much "stress" and "pressure" Indian and Chinese parents put on their children.
There is no doubt students in those countries feel parental, peer and community pressure to set high academic goals and to perform at a high level intellectually.
But I think as Americans we should be a bit cautious about throwing the "stress stones" without examining where we put pressure on our teens. In our glass house, athletic achievement is the pressure point for high school students - peer pressure to make the team, parental pressure to earn the scholarship and community pressure for athletic recognition.
The New York Times article "College Athletic Scholarships:Expectations Lose Out to Reality"
(Monday 3-10-08) offers insight into the stress and pressure Americans put on high school students and where a large portion of US teens' Two Million Minutes are spent.
More than 6.4 million US high school students participate in competitive high school sports. Today, to play on the football, basketball, baseball, track, hockey and other sports teams requires a very high level of effort, with almost year round training and practice - an enormous commitment of time and of money - the school's money for facilities and coaches; the parents money for outside coaches, camps and travel to competitive events.
As the article details, many parents and students justify the time, effort and expense with the expectation that a lucrative college scholarship is waiting for the student at the end of high school.
The sad reality is only a tiny fraction of high school athletes receive a college scholarship - about 1 out of every 90 athletes - and often the scholarship money is dwarfed by the money parents invested in the student's athletic career.
One student discussed in the article was Pat Taylor, who started playing soccer at 4, but didn't earn a scholarship. "...if I had it to do over, I would have skipped a practice every now and then to go to a concert or a movie with my friends. I missed out on a lot of things for soccer. I wish I could have some of that time back.”
Indian and Chinese parents are generally baffled by our emphasis on athletic achievement. In their countries this time is spent on study and academic effort that leads to college and to a well-paying career.
Several Indian parents have remarked to me that they read with astonishment about the injuries US high school athletes suffer. "Mr. Compton, every year we read of 2-3 US boys dying of heat stroke during summer football practices. Why do American parents put such stress on sports to the point they kill their children."
I had no adequate response.
I am in no way saying we should do away with high school athletics, my daughters both play high school sports and they benefit from the exercise, commitment and teamwork that comes from athletics. I do advocate, however, that the portion of each student's two million minutes in high school that are devoted to sports should be in proportion to their benefit - both short term and lifetime - and should be secondary to the time and effort spent on academics. A smarter child is always a winner in the long term.