Race to Nowhere

Image © 2011 Reel Link Films

This past weekend, I was able to attend a showing of two movies about the educational situation in America: Race to Nowhere and Waiting for Superman. Both offer challenges and the sometimes harsh realities facing students, teachers, parents, and administrators in the educational system.

While I will not recap the stories in each, I would like to go over some main ideas that were presented in each. For this week, I would like to focus on what I was able to take away from Race to Nowhere.

  1. Student stress was a major factor behind the making of this film. The question we should be asking is when is homework no longer aiding student learning? When does it become too much? This leads to the idea of the importance of open communication between parents, teachers, students, health professionals, counselors, and administrators. We need to recognize the impact on our children’s health, both physical and mental, all this work might be having.
  2. With the introduction of standardized testing initiatives like No Child Left Behind, schools are being pressured to succeed based on numbers and quantifying progress via standardized testing. Are we then focused too much on teaching students how to take a test versus meaningful acquisition of knowledge? The importance of information retention and acquiring crucial analytical and critical thinking skills cannot be stressed enough in education.
  3. The epidemic of cheating in order to succeed was a rather poignant portion of the film. One has to wonder of the implications for the performance of these students who are cheating when they become professionals in the future. Will they posses the natural curiosity and inquiry needed to tackle the problems and challenges of the future?
  4. Teachers with their own teaching philosophies are sometimes put at odds with the structure of the system, creating friction and demotivating otherwise highly motivated educators. How can we reconcile the two forces (teacher philosophy and standards of the system) for the betterment of students?
  5. The idea of using a multiple intelligences approach to improve education was offered as a possible approach. Instead of viewing children as we are now (“under-performing” or “uninterested in learning” if they can’t fit into the very narrow mold we have created), learning to embrace the fact that everyone has a different way of learning.
  6. Viewing the child as a “whole child” or “whole learner.” This also involves allowing children to be children. The importance of time for play and relaxation was noted several times during the film, with ideas such as district supported “No Homework Nights” being instituted to allow students time off to relax.
  7. The idea was presented that we need to give more value to creativity and creative intelligence in the educational system. By fostering creative minds, we help to encourage future innovators and pioneers who will go on to continue the proud tradition of cutting edge innovations created in the United States.
Race to Nowhere is a documentary on the American education system, created by Vicki Abeles. Please visit the official documentary website to find or organize a screening near you. The website also has many helpful resources for those who wish to take action or learn more about the issues addressed in the film.

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