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October 3, 2005

resume-padding and risk

My friends Lew Friedland and Shauna Morimoto have published a new CIRCLE working paper (pdf) that ought to interest a broad audience. Friedland and Morimoto found that anxiety about college admissions is a major aspect of adolescentsí lives, affecting almost all students, from those on the honor roll to ones who are having trouble staying in high school. This anxiety is so pervasive that it cannot be separated from other motives that are driving youth to volunteer in record numbers. In other words, young people do not simply volunteer in order to get into college, but that goal is so central to their lives, and so fraught with apprehension, that it colors and shapes all their choices. To a disturbing degree, they cannot articulate other values or purposes of the volunteering that they do.

Because our business is youth civic engagement, we have packaged this working paper as an exploration of service in high schools. But it could be read in a much broader sociological context. The German sociologist Ulrich Beck--whom, unfortunately, I have not yet read--argues that risk has been individualized. People individually bear the long-term consequences of their performance at each stage of their lives, including early adolescence. Families, communities, and associations no longer protect them as much as they used to. For "high-performing" students, including those who are female or members of racial minorities, opportunities have probably improved. But the obverse of opportunity is risk. There are serious disadvantages to raising young people under circumstances of high (perceived) risk, even if they have a chance to obtain excellent outcomes through hard work. One disadvantage of individualized risk is a kind of hollowing-out of adolescence, as activities that should be deeply satisfying become merely instrumental. Volunteering is just an example. Learning, athletics, and religious participation can also lose their intrinsic significance if students feel they must "perform" at optimal levels at all times in order to maximize their economic opportunities.

October 3, 2005 9:30 AM | category: education policy | Comments


Very interesting and mildly disturbing...though...sometimes action precedes understanding...for instance, I have always relied on school to give me the discipline to expand my mind/experience in ways that I probably would not without external pressure. At the beginning of a fascinating article in last week's New Yorker we see what looks like a much saner approach in Canada. I myself got into Yale on legacy status and academic potential (800 verbal SAT) though it always surprised me because I eschewed the culture of resume padding activity at my fairly competitive public high school in wealthy Wilton, CT. I have a sense that the culture of high achievement tends to reify class difference such that those high achievers end up using their abilities and hard work for personal benefit rather than civic virtue (though of course free marketers believe this is the only civic virtue).

October 9, 2005 6:46 PM | Comments (1) | posted by Carl of Baltimore

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