Thursday, February 24, 2011

Race to Nowhere

Last night I saw the movie, Race to Nowhere.  The movie is supposed to be a call to parents, educators and policy makers to reconsider how we are preparing our kids to become responsible, leading contributors in society.  The movie emphasizes the negative repercussions of the incessant, resume-building-achievement-culture, driving kids to excel in academics, sports, music, etc. from the time they are toddlers.  As a result, any hint of failure or rejection can become catastrophic events in the lives of our youths.  Consequently, some kids resort to darker means to achieve their goals.

Although I found the movie deeply troubling, I also found it so sad.  Even if my children manage to make it through their schooling without a serious anxiety disorder, I still worry that they don’t have enough of an opportunity to be kids and play—especially in Middle school and High School when they have a longer school day and more homework.  One parent commented after the screening that between the length of the school day and the hours of homework, we are expecting our high school students to “work” many more hours than we expect most adults to “work.”   
Here are 18 quotes from the film that made me think.  The quotes may not be word for word exactly.
  1. We do whatever it takes to get an A.
  2. When I had kids I didn’t think that the only time I’d see them was for 20 minutes at dinner.
  3. These kids are so overscheduled and tired … I’m afraid that our children are going to sue us for stealing their childhoods.
  4. We want the best for them [so] we put pressure on them to be what we want them to be.  We want them to have choices. 
  5. I figured out that not eating gave me more energy … but it still wasn’t enough to get everything done.
  6. The countries that outperform us on international tests actually give less homework than we do in the United States
  7. At what point did it become okay for schools to dictate how we spend our lives after the bell rings? [regarding homework]
  8. When American kids encounter questions [on international assessments that don’t look like what they’re used to from their rote practice] they fall apart.
  9. Your 6–month-old is supposed to be sucking on his toes and thumbs not doing flashcards
  10. The point of education is to learn not memorize
  11. It’s impossible to cover all of the material for the AP course in one year. Literally impossible.
  12. After my daughter passed her AP French exam she said “I never have to speak French again.”
  13. So much of [kids’] time is structured. The only unstructured time they seem to have is the time they spend on the computer.
  14. What’s happening these days is that kids aren’t getting a chance to find out what they love to do.
  15. Parents say ‘My child is a good kid.’ No, they were a good performer. You never found out if they were a good kid. You just know they’re a good student not a good solid kid.
  16. I stopped trying because if you don’t try you can’t fail.
  17. If you’ve always had As there’s only one way to go and that’s down so that B feels like a failure
  18. We need to redefine success for kids … We have to get off this treadmill together. [We have to discuss] what does it take to create a happy motivated creative human being?
My kids are still in elementary school, but I already see the pressures of school having an impact in 5th grade.  Am I at fault as a parent for putting too much pressure on my daughter(s) and not modeling stress free behavior?  Likely the answer is yes, at least to a degree, to both questions, but I am sure that all the blame does not lie only with the parents.  I read several blog posts and articles that put all the blame on parents.   I am sure that it a much larger societal question and we need to keep the conversation going.   Let me know what you think. 


  1. The director of the film, who was critical of all these things, was also shlepping her 9 year old to martial arts, piano, soccer and a tutor. I'm not so sure it's the school and homework causing all of this stress, I think the parents who overschedule their children contribute to the problem.

  2. I wish it were that simple. The only thing I enroll the kids in without their input is school -- attending in MD means they wake up at 6:15, are out the door at 6:35, and not back until 5:30. Later for my older one. And that's before anything they find a privilege, such as basketball or ballet. Day in, day out. It gets exhausting. Tonight I drove the evening carpool, so no one was home or in bed before 8:30, not even my three year old. And I let the 2nd grader skip homework. :(

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