Have any of you seen this documentary? Race to Nowhere is a film about the pressure to succeed in high school in order to gain admission to a competitive four year college. It’s primary focus is on the super-testing atmosphere and the demands of AP classes and extracurricular activities on the students and their families.
I watched it twice. Each time I came away with the same impression. The families and students interviewed seemed utterly unprepared for the competition they were in. My 16 year old daughter watched it and had the same impression, stating quickly that most or all of the students interviewed extensively in the movie never should have been put into the pressure-cooker in the first place. Her words: “These kids are not equipped for high performance and should not have been put into AP classes or told they could get into Harvard or Stanford or UC Berkely, in the first place!” I do agree.
The problem is NOT too much homework, as the movie suggests. The statistics bear out the opposite – most kids in high school watch 4 hours of TV per day and play video games on top of this ….daily. The problem is one of goal setting. For example, my youngest child is not the athletic type. Outdoorsy – yes. He’d much rather be outside, no shirt, playing for hours, running and carrying on. But give him a basketball or a baseball and bat? It is not a pretty sight. Would I ever put this kid in a competitive sport with a ball that had to be bounced, kicked, caught or hit with a racquet? Never. I have different goals for him – reasonable goals for him in the realm of sports.
This same kind of reality check needs to be done all over the country, when it comes to college preparation. After I sat through this whiny vignette a second time, I asked myself why in the world these parents were doing this terrible thing to these perfectly nice kids. I have met kids who can do 4 hours of advanced algebra without complaint and then turn to the memory work needed to prepare for five different AP exams. They are calm, driven and gifted. I have also met kids who are completely lost (academically) most days. Not only are they unable to handle the intensity of AP level work while balancing other commitments, they also have no idea why they are doing it. They lack the big picture, they are not playing to their strengths and pushing these kids up the Ivy hill is just wrong. But, I blame the parents, not the schools for this tragic error of goal-setting.
I thought the entire move reeked of this and it could have been more aptly named ….The Injustice of Erroneous Goals.
I found this Washington Post article illuminating: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/class-struggle/post/why-race-to-nowhere-documentary-is-wrong/2011/04/03/AFBt27VC_blog.html
The reason these kids are sick, distraught, overwhelmed and failing is that most of the parents (not all of them) were oblivious. The parents were all watching a train wreck take place in their kid’s lives because deep down inside, they want their kids to keep up when they really should have encouraged them to slow down. Then they blamed the system, the homework, the AP classes, the unforgiving and unrelenting testing. But, parents ALWAYS have a choice. Parents ALWAYS have the freedom to walk away. The movie was about the ‘system’ so I did not expect to see much coverage of home education. But, to not mention it even once as a viable alternative? It was an odd omission.