Racing Nowhere: A Teacher’s View

14 Dec, 2011

By Loop Contributor


Elizabeth Dillon is a First Grade teacher at Murray Avenue School in Larchmont. She writes about how those who have seen the film can respond to its message.


Race to Nowhere is a documentary film examining the pressures faced by young people, teachers, and parents in our fast-paced, high-stakes education system and culture. Filmmaker Vicki Abeles explained her motivation behind bringing these pressures to light:


“Seeing the stress levels in my children rise and the suicide of a 13-year old in my community, I set out to understand what was going on. I learned of an epidemic of stress breaking out amongst kids and a lack of preparation for college and the workplace. I set out to understand the state of childhood and education.”

The film features the stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to their limits, educators who are frustrated and burned out, and parents who are worried and want only to do what is best for their children. Race to Nowhere points out a silent epidemic running through our schools. Cheating has become the norm in some schools. Students become disengaged and develop stress-related illnesses. Depression and burnout are commonplace. Young people arrive at college or the workplace and find that they are both unprepared and uninspired.

The experts featured in the film include Dr. Madeline Levine, Clinical Psychologist and author of The Price of Privilege; Dr. Wendy Mogel, Clinical Psychologist and author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus; Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, Adolescent Medicine Specialist, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Dr. Deborah Stipek, Dean of the School of Education at Stanford University; Dr. Denise Pope, lecturer at Stanford University and co-founder of Challenge Success; and Sara Bennett, co-author of The Case Against Homework.

Race to Nowhere has been shown to hundreds of thousands of students, parents, educators, and concerned citizens since premiering at the Mill Valley Film Festival in October 2009. The goal is to use the film as a vehicle to increase awareness, generate dialogue, and create the political will to transform education, redefine success for our children, and safeguard their health.

The film was shown at Murray Avenue School on the evening of October 24. I was present at this screening and attended several screenings last year. The comments and discussions after the different screenings raised the same fears and concerns voiced in the film. Over and over, in different communities in this area, it seems that there are pressures on young students to achieve at the risk of producing anxious and stressed-out children.

After seeing this film I asked myself: Is there anything that I am doing as a teacher that in any way contributes to this stress and anxiety? What can be done to alleviate this problem in our society, our country, and right here in our community? The facilitation guide that comes with the film offers many helpful suggestions, such as the following:


Parents/guardians can:

Talk about the meaning of success: Do your family’s actions reflect your values?

Avoid overscheduling.

Make sleep a priority.

Allow your children to make mistakes and learn from them.

Let your children manage homework independently.

Don’t let homework interfere with dinner, sleep, reading, chores, and physical activities.


Students can:

Speak to adults and let them know how you are feeling.

Get plenty of sleep.

Make time for things that you enjoy.

Limit AP classes to subjects you enjoy.

Limit extracurricular activities.


Educators can:

Become knowledgeable about research in the area of homework and the importance of play and downtime.

Find opportunities to evaluate students without tests.

Teach to your passions and develop projects that are student driven and engage them in learning.

Advocate for alternatives to standardized testing.


Administrators can:

Develop a plan of action to create a positive and healthy educational environment that supports the whole child.

Address sources of stress for children, educators, and families.

Make sure that elementary children have recess and older students have time for lunch.

Consider making homework the exception rather than the rule.


These are only some of the suggestions for parents, students, educators, and administrators. After reading a number of the books recommended in the film, I feel the steps above provide a solid start.  One person alone is not able to alleviate the problems that cause stress and anxiety in young children today. We must work together to find solutions.
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  • murmom

    this movie is not just about too much HW, standardized tests and parents over scheduling their kids. It’s also about teachers and what goes on in the classroom when a supportive and collaborative environment is non-existent. A child can leave school at the end of each day with lots of anxiety, whether or not there is HW or after school activities. It’s the responsibility of each teacher (especially in the younger grades) to create an environment that doesn’t create unnecessary anxiety, which includes a no bullying policy and helping children feel successful in the classroom. HW and after school activities have nothing to do with it if the classroom environment is where the anxiety begins.

  • irisblau

    The problem is that our children are no longer simply competing against the kids in Scarsdale or Rye. They are competing globally. If you want your kids to access upper-tier learning institutions they must have the foundation. That requires a lot of work and managing the associated stress.

    Don’t want to stress? For every family that is happy to opt out there is a kid from Hanoi or Tel Aviv that is happy to take what might have been your kids spot.

    The most capable students should be segregated and allowed to “run” as fast as they can. This would allow less academically/emotionally capable students to have an easier time of things.

    Welcome to globalization.

  • Oreo

    A problem is that schooling and teaching in America is too often no longer about quality appropriate education but about who gets the money from whom.

    Why should society feel responsible only for the education of children, and not for the education of all adults of every age? – Erich Fromm

  • kashi

    i did not see the movie but i get it because i live it with 3 elementary kids. its scary these days because its such a different world than it was for me growing up. but seeing parents place so much pressure on their kids at such a young age is heartbreaking. race to get i to the best universities, starting in ELEM school? ok, yeah maybe it will make a difference but what is it doing to your kid and their ability to feel happiness and pride in themselves. sure, you can raise a shark who can earn tons of money. is a shark happy? no…a shark has dead eyes and an unwavering dedication to instant gratification and even then isnt happy or fulfilled. some folk need to GET OVER themselves sheesh and let the kids be KIDS. the rat race will be there forever and always. childhood will not.
    theres something about these westchester parents man. i am not from here. whre I come from, parents rush to stand on their feet, yell and cheer at the end of their child dance recital performance, band recital or karate challenge. westchester parents politely clap as if they were at some 2 thousnd a plate fundraiser in a museum. sheesh, get over yourselves, let your kids be KIDS, join in and have a little FUN. your kids will never forget it i guarantee you that.