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Anxiety, Fitting In, and the Emotional Legacy of the Breakfast Club

My son, Eddie, is a 9th grader and he was freaking out last night while studying for his French exam. I asked him about his anxiety and it is real. And, it is not just real for Eddie; it is real for lots of his friends and other kids too, he told me.

Eddie doesn’t like French. He doesn’t want to take French. His choices were French or Spanish in order to have an advanced degree awarded from the state of NY. “Will French hold you back?” I asked him. He doesn’t know. On paper, if he doesn’t pass, it will hold him back. But, maybe the State of NY is holding him back, maybe inadvertently, but it is still real for Eddie and a lot of other kids who don’t like something about school—and have to look failure in the eye because he isn’t achieving something that he wanted. Maybe it is any course that any student struggles with and cannot get other support besides getting a tutor in addition to staying after school for help—which aren’t automatic fixes for success.

Does our system recognize this? I’m not so sure they do. Things haven’t changed that much in our State. More rigor, they say. Deeper standards, they boast. But, if kids are being slotted into other programming because they fail something and then feel like a failure, in what ways do schools help the emotional and psychological side of the stressors that our students face and the failure that can often times consume a child.

Eddie won’t let French crush his spirit, but it could if we didn’t recognize his anxiety, talk with him about it, and let him express his feelings without keeping it bottled up inside of him.

We can reform our schools all we want. We can strive to build one-of-a-kind schools, but they have to still reside under the umbrella of governance and control from your local government bodies and State officials.

NY State is not the enemy. I’m sure your own state guidelines, graduation requirements, and high-stakes tests suffocate lots of kids each year too. But, maybe it would be nice for a true reform effort to be discussed at the top of the policy-making chain. Maybe the rigor that we think is good for kids creates so many unintended consequences that range from anxiety to even suicide.

Maybe the movie, The Breakfast Club, tells us something about our system that could be viewed or reviewed again by policy-makers across the nation. Brian Johnson felt the pressure of getting good grades. Sure, his parents created some of that anxiety, but so did the policy-makers. Tracking is still alive and thriving today, but not just in the courses that we slot kids into. There is tracking, ultimately, in the diplomas that are given to our students on graduation day if they even feel the desire to graduate and not drop out of our adult-driven system.

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