Friday, December 17, 2010

"Race to Nowhere" Has Great Points, But Will Americans Listen?

Earlier this month I attended a screening of a documentary, "Race to Nowhere." I thought I had blogged about it, but I can't seem to find my thoughts shared here. When the film showed up again this week, this time via Today, I found myself revisiting the experience. And, of course, I feel compelled to share.

The film focuses on the immense pressures under which children and their teachers are placed in this numbers game that our education system has become. It addresses the shift in focus from learning material to regurgitating facts. It offers a variety of angles to this story about our need to succeed in a system that is hardly running at its potential. It talks about the rise in depression, eating disorders and stress-related disorders that are on the rise in today's youth as they strive to meet a mark that is ever changing, and relatively ambiguous.

You may think, because the film has appeared on this blog, that it promotes homeschooling. In fact, it doesn't. At all. While some of the students interviewed did opt to take part in independent study or other alternative programs, the film doesn't address the movement, doesn't touch upon unschooling, and doesn't promote withdrawal from the system. Rather, it focuses on changing the system so that it will better work for our nation's children.

Here's a little taste, and some related discussion ala Today:

The goal of the project is to begin dialogue and elicit responses locally in order to make changes nationally. Ideally, the film maker would like to see a change in the system which would return childhood to the children while also making better use of our children's time while they are in school.

I attended the Buellton showing of this film in mid-November. There were lots of educators there from various types of schools, as well as parents, but few students (if any). I, too, had opted to leave my children at home, but were I to do it again, I'd certainly bring along my 10 year old. I think this discussion should also include the children/students directly affected by the situation.

While I enjoyed the film, I was disappointed to hear audience member discussion immediately following the film quickly turn to the same old "we can't" attitude. Rather than a free flow of thoughts and ideas, the naysayers were out in force. Case in point, if the focus on standardized testing doesn't allow teachers to use their best judgment in teaching their students in a manner that best serves STUDENTS, why doesn't an entire district, or, even better, an entire county simply refuse to take the test?

"We can't do that!" "We'd lose our funding." "We'd lose our jobs."

Really? If all 3,104.5 teachers employed to educate the 65,920 students in Santa Barbara County all agreed to skip those tests, to teach as they were trained to teach, to have the students' interest in the forefront rather than fear, would the state really come take over? And if one county did it, what if others followed? Would the state really counter the 293,693.7 professional educators they've hired as the experts in the field? If the state doesn't trust these teachers to treat our 6,252,011 students as individuals rather than conforming pieces in a puzzle, why should parents be asked to entrust their children to these people? And how, particularly in a nearly bankrupt state, could the government really take over all 9,898 schools, particularly without the support of trained educators who have the children's best interests in mind?

Our society has become so used to the "can't do" attitude that we may just lose out to those "can do" societies. We rose to the top by fighting for it tooth and nail (among other things), not by sitting back and whining about how we couldn't make a difference.

To learn more about the film and to find a screening near you, check out "Race to Nowhere." If there's not a screening slated for your neck of the woods, consider putting it together for your community.


  1. Dick Clark from the Journalist Fellows Program has written about this as well on his blog,
    You might find it of interest.

  2. JEN
    You are absolutely on the right track with your concerns about the naysayers. We can't expect better circumstances for our young by whining about current conditions. Unfortunately, I am not sure we can expect the best for all children by withdrawing from the systtem either. My experiences with alternative programs and homeschooling is that while they may be beneficial to the kids involved they take pressure off the need to improve the system for others. I would be interested in your sharing your thoughts on this here and on my Blog at


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