Last night I went to go see “Race to Nowhere, The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture,” a 2009 documentary film made by a parent and first-time director.
The movie highlights issues students in the United States are facing: stress, eating disorders, anorexia, drug abuse, anxiety, depression, suicide, and the over abundance of HOMEWORK, HOMEWORK, AND MORE HOMEWORK…. The movie blames both parents and schools for creating such pressures on our youth.
Throughout the movie there is commentary from parents, students, educators doctor’s, policymakers, and administrators.
The director Vicky Abeles says, “I didn’t think when I had kids that the only time I’d see them was for 20 minutes at dinner.” I wanted to yell out, Well whose fault is that?
The film portrays that high stakes testing, schools and parental pressure are killing our children’s health and emotional well being. It claims our children are so overloaded, overworked and stressed. That our children are forced to work, work, work with no time for good old fashion play, family dinners,or SLEEP for that matter due to tremendous amounts of homework and extra curricular activities. It also claims that parents and children alike can’t lighten the load for fear that they will NOT be accepted into good colleges.
According to one counselor children are collapsing from fatigue and stress and parents have no idea why because their child is such a good kid. The counselor replies, No he or she is a good performer and you don’t know whether she’s a good kid or not. Wow, that was a pretty vicious reply.
They also talk about parents trying to prepare their children for academics as early as babies. You know Brainy Babies, Einstein Babies, etc… The one woman who I believe was a psychologist and my personal favorite says, These babies should be sucking on their toes and not reading. That is what is developmentally appropriate.
The same woman speaks about the facades parents put on at the grocery store claiming that their child is doing GREAT when in reality she knows they are not because they are patients of hers.
Another counselor says his father works at a mental health facility near a university who always knows when exams are approaching because the facilities beds fills up with university students.
One mother claims that her thirteen year old daughter took her life over the stress of an upcoming Math tests. She claims that there were no warning signs and there were no other problems. She has even after her daughter’s death reviewed her private e-mail’s, other communications, etc… As a matter of fact because of the death of this beautiful young girl is what inspired the film maker to make this movie since the girl was from her home town. Personally, I find it hard to believe that the girl took her life over the stress of a math test but I don’t know all the surrounding circumstances. I wonder what she suspected the consequences to be if she had not done well on the test. Regardless, she was a beautiful young girl and it was a very sad loss of life. My prayers go out to her and her family.
In another part of the movie, Stanford’s Dean questions in all this pressure are children really learning or does it go in and right back out again. Her own daughter made the following comment after her last exam in her French Advanced Placement class and said, “Now I never have to speak French again.”
The point is by pushing our children to the limits, Are they really learning? They discuss how Mathematics in the United States tends to be formulaic. How we are not raising critical and analytical thinkers. Students are cramming for all these tests but then apparently don’t retain what they have learned thus overwhelming amounts are children needing remediation when they get into college. I was thinking at this time in the movie but perhaps we should look HOW we are teaching? Perhaps in some ways we need to go back to the basics.
The movie also shows the stress of all of this pressure and high stakes testing is causing children to cheat in school. They quote a study in where five thousand students were questioned if they had ever cheated ONLY three percent had NEVER cheated on a test. As a matter of fact, they interviewed students who exclaimed they needed to cheat to get by.
The movie focuses on when we treat our children as if they were robots and expect them to just worry about passing the test that this can become counterproductive. Children are not learning to be independent learners and make lousy future employees because they are always waiting to be instructed on what to do next.
They also talk about the quality of teacher. How in some countries and areas that they recruit only the BEST to teach. For instance Singapore takes their top twenty percent of students and entices them to become teachers by offering them a free ride to a college education. While in our country colleges have become big enterprising businesses.
I know that in other countries the teacher profession is about prestige and not money. While I can certainly understand the want of a decent and fair salary you can see the wide disparity between the United States as compared to places such as Singapore and Finland. An interesting article, not mentioned in the movie but will give you a feel for what I am talking about can be read at:
In another scene, one teacher actually breaks down crying in the movie because she wants to teach and not have the curriculum and standards dictated to her. Because of this she claims is why she left the teaching profession.
Another strong point of the movie was the amount of homework that children receive here in the states. One advanced placement teacher decided to do a study analysis within his own class. He gave LESS homework and amazingly his students scores increased. I can certainly relate to the amount of homework and purpose of homework as when my children attended public school homework time was most definitely a stressful event. Interestingly, two of them now attend private school, have less homework and have been MUCH more successful in their academic work.
In closing, while I saw some very good points of the movie I found it to be slightly boring and slightly far fetched in areas. Perhaps I found a hard time relating to the movie since when my children although extremely bright but who also receive special education attended Public School had such low expectations placed on them by the educator’s and not the kind of demands this movie expresses. But hey that is a whole different blog now….
Copyrighted 2011: danadogooder and DMT