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