The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids by Alexandra
Robbins (Hardcover, 2006)|
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
This book is really about obsession, but it's hard not to become obsessed with
this book once you begin reading it. Strange, but true.
One reason for this obsession proclivity is the outstanding
authorship. In writing this compelling documentary/ commentary, Robbins
borrowed a technique from today's top fiction writers. That is, she
interwove the activities and viewpoints of several characters into
parallel story threads that help build tension in the book. Tension is what all
the writing clinics tell authors to build into any story. This is only one
of the tools Robbins used to keep the reader turning each of the
400 plus pages in this book.
Another reason is the authenticity. There is no "reaching for
conclusions," taking things out context, or slanting things to support
some errant opinion. Because Robbins has an actual travesty to talk
about, has real information to share with the reader, and is so
articulate, she doesn't resort to propaganda tactics. What you get is
Other sources confirm what Robbins reveals. As part of my review
process, I brought up many of these issues with school teachers, students, a retired school
principal, and a former teacher who quit for another line of work. Their
opinions and observations supported what Robbins said about "teaching to
the test" and how what passes for education in America has done enormous
damage to millions of children.
Today, even the brightest kids have unwarranted pressures deadening
both their ability and desire to develop healthy brains--or even to learn.
Years ago, I read the
details of the "No Child Left Behind" program. I immediately renamed
it "No Child Gets Ahead." It has turned out to be exactly that, but for
reasons I was not aware of. Robbins takes a much wider and more
informed view than my own to produce the total picture. Any child who
isn't behind is that way despite this program, not because of it.
Last year, I reviewed another book, "The
New Brain." That book talks about how people's brains are "rewiring" for short attention span
activities instead of deep thinking. We can see this played out in a
manic, myopic, misinformed, misanthropic, and mentally retarding
pursuit of perfection in a very narrow set of metrics. Those metrics
consist mostly of test scores, school grades, SAT scores, and acceptance
into over-rated colleges--none of which has any real meaning.
Robbins addresses these issues well, and shows what happens to
Robbins avoids assessing individual colleges. So, I'll
briefly do that here.
You've perhaps read various analyses showing that Harvard is merely a
diploma mill. Harvard professors publish, rather than teach.
This is true at both the graduate and undergraduate level. When you get
all sizzle and no steak, you starve. Anyone reading the business
journals sees that educationally starved Harvard MBAs have left a wake of destruction in corporate
America. Although they have great "good old boy" connections, they
lack a solid education. Their counterparts from lower-tiered schools can
run circles around them.
The lower-tiered schools have to offer something
other than a brand-name diploma, to attract students. Thus, their professors actually teach classes.
Those professors also (at least in my case) call the students at home to discuss lectures
and to assign special projects to help the individual student further develop.
This, as opposed to an Ivy League lecture hall method where the student
is just a "check off the box" nuisance obligation.
Robbins also exposes the absurd "Best Colleges" listing
spewed annually by US News &
World Report for the fraud it is. Reading the truth behind this
hogwash, and the damage it causes, should shock anybody who has a
The school from which I earned my MBA
never makes those rankings. At the time I was pursuing my MBA at Lake
Erie College, a coworker was pursuing his MBA at
highly-ranked Case Western Reserve University. My Business Law class
alone required 120 hours of homework over a particular three-week
stretch. But my coworker had time to play on four different sports teams
(golf, volleyball, baseball, and bowling) while getting his CWRU degree.
Discussing any MBA
topic with him quickly left me with the impression he had only a surface
exposure to the material--and sometimes, not even that. This level of
"competence" is what a "top school" produces. Yet, many
parents are fanatical about getting their kids into one of these "top
schools." Go figure.
Sleep deprivation is another problem Robbins
reveals. I was
surprised to read these kids were getting by on about four hours of sleep and nobody ever saw
the stupidity of that.
Sleep Institute has reams of research showing that a person who is 20%
sleep-deprived has the mental acuity of a person who is drunk. How dull
is the brain when you are 50% sleep-deprived? If those same
parents served their kids a half gallon of booze for breakfast and sent
them off to school, people would be clamoring for Social Services to
remove the children from those homes.
Is sleep deprivation really interfering with brain
function? To find out, just watch
today's "college track" school kids try to do something that requires
concentration, critical thinking, or problem-solving. And take a look at the
suicide statistics while you're at it. Sleep deprivation is a recognized torture technique.
Why do parents use it on their children? Robbins explains why. The
answer is important to understand.
Robbins addresses several other delusions many parents of today's school
kids to have about education, extracurriculars, colleges, and
childhood. Each delusion produces real problems with real consequences
that we can see without much effort.
In the last chapter, Robbins provides excellent recommendations for
making our dysfunctional "education" system functional. She offers
specific advice for specific groups. For example, "What Parents Can Do"
and "What Counselors Can Do."
The old axiom, "If you want it done wrong, have the government do it"
is increasingly describing our "educational" system. Collectively, we
have forgotten what education means. A close look at the toll on our
society's children shows we have forgotten what
This book should be required reading for all parents,
teachers, school board members, and college admissions people. And let's
not forget the politicians (much as we'd like to).
The Overachievers makes it into bedrooms and boardrooms across the
nation and spurs the necessary changes, it will help put our future onto a sustainable path.
I don't suggest you buy a copy of
The Overachievers. I suggest you buy
several copies and get them into the hands of people of influence.
Our society has failed its children. But we can redeem both them and ourselves
by helping others understand what Robbins researched and presented so