IS ANXIETY BECOMING THE SILENT EPIDEMIC

I was reading the Daily Kos’ post on The Race to Nowhere and while I have not seen the film, this post did make me move up on my list of priorities this idea that has been rolling around in my head for the past few weeks.
As a Special Education and second career teacher, in many ways I have a unique view of “school”. But I have noticed a trend…that many of my Special Education students now have the medical diagnosis of Anxiety Disorder, in addition to their Special Education designation.When talking with our school’s guidance counselors who do double-duty as our school social workers, they are also saying that they are seeing more and more students who either exhibit or do have a medical diagnosis of Anxiety Disorder of some sort. This is a relatively small school, in a rural areas where the stressors are a bit different than a large urban environment where pressures may be even greater.

Extrapolate this seemingly small number of students with anxiety issues by the number of Junior High Schools in this country, then this issue deserves at least a second look and in my opinion, should be looked at quite differently. Is it becoming the silent epidemic that leadership (political or educational) do not want to talk about or acknowledge might exist?

I wonder if schools as a result of today’s ever increasing high expectations and constant pressure to achieve, have become a large part of the problem for our students? At what point does, too much become – too much? Are the academic expectations we place on our students too many, too high, too soon? Those are questions that need to be asked and answered as we seem to be going down this road to educational reform hell that is paved with “good intentions”.

I am not a curriculum specialist, child psychologist, or any of the other specialists or not so specialists that decide what should be taught in school today. However, I do believe there is a point of diminishing returns on what and when we teach subject matter to many some students who are not ready for it. Tough academic standards are great for those who are ready, but they really, really suck for those students who are not ready to achieve at that level yet.

I believe that many student’s are so stressed out over school, that it is also causing an increase in referrals to Special Education as students behaviors deteriorate and they can’t keep up with their peers in their classrooms. If this is the case, the people who are setting and advocating for these educational reforms and policies need to look at the actual cost in terms of human suffering, stress and the additional costs in real dollars that anxiety does have for our students, and look beyond the current single-minded focus on test scores or meeting standards.

Looking back, I wasn’t overly thrilled about being in school in the 60’s and 70’s, and in today’s education world of high expectations and standards, I have a feeling that I would be doing even worse today than I did back then.  There was enough pressure to succeed back then and the stress to succeed in today’s world has grown exponentially for youth today.

In my unenlightened view many of the reforms that are being put forth as good educational reforms are the delusions of what school should look like from adults, who were usually good students and successful in school or college. Many of these policies and educational reforms are certainly are not what school should look like from the perspective of students who struggle academically.

The anxiety that our many some of our students are feeling as a result of today’s academic reforms are beginning to show up in unexpected ways and will negatively affect students in the long-term (in my opinion).

The problem is that it seems that many of these “reforms” are already law and from the leadership perspective they are not changing all that much anytime soon.