Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Film Tween Parents MUST See: Race To Nowhere

A documentary relevant to school-age children and their parents is making the round at area schools: "Race To Nowhere" is a  film made by a mother of three in Lafayette, California, Vicki Abeles. She saw the strain in her children "as they navigated days filled with school, homework, tutoring and extracurricular activities." When her 12-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a stress-induced illness, it was a wake-up call that made her "look closely at the relentless pressure to perform that children face today." The movie features interviews with tweens, teens, teachers, parents and development experts about the stress, depression and burnout that pervades schools in the U.S. The film comes as a particularly poignant time: we simultaneously have experts questioning the pressure to perform on kids while others, such as the Tiger Mom, advocate for stricter standards and greater focus on performance.

"Race to Nowhere: the Dark Side of America's Achievement Culture" is upfront with its agenda to "radically changing the national dialogue on education" and "mobilize families, educators, and policy makers to challenge current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens."

We had the chance to attend an early screening last week, and additional screenings are scheduled in the District on March 1st and 8th at Washington Hebrew Congregation (3935 Macomb Street NW) and the Avalon Theatre (5612 Connecticut Ave NW) respectively.
While we didn't agree with everything in the film, we were struck by its message and the voices of the tweens and teens interviewed. Some points that particularly stuck with us include:
  • Are we raising a nation of "academic competitors" at the expense of true learners?
  • The dread and inevitability expressed by students about the treadmill they are on to "get-into-a-good-high-school-so-that-they-can-get-into-a-top-tier-school-and-then-get-into-a-top-tier-grad-school-so-that-they-can-get-a-good-job."
  • We've turned out children into professional students. High school transcripts are the essentially the resume of students, and their job is getting into college. And kids start building their resumes at age 8.
  • The common source of most kids' negative behavior is stress.
  • Sleep deprivation is a form of child neglect.
  • Cheating is becoming rampant, and students are feeling intense pressure to "get the grade by hook or by crook." "Cheating has become another course in school that one gets better at each year."
  • The only unstructured time kids have these days is on the computer, and that brings its own set of issues.
  • The world is run by C-students - very few CEOs were top students; they were just the most persistent.
The movie closes with a litany of suggestions for students, parents and educators, but it's clear that the path to solving the stress problem is a long road.
The film has received critical acclaim and will resonate especially amongst denizens of America's most overachieving city.

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