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Race to Nowhere update

September 27, 2010

This past Thursday, a couple of colleagues and I trekked out to Athens, GA to catch an early screening of Race to Nowhere, the movie I blogged about previously that documents the “pressures faced by American schoolchildren and their teachers in a system and culture obsessed with the illusion of achievement, competition and the pressure to perform.”

The movie painted a pretty good picture of the pressure facing your typical school age kid, at least as I have encountered them in the private schools I’ve taught at. What was most fascinating was how the movie is told from the perspective of the director, a mother of 3 who has become outraged by how much her interactions with her children have changed as they’ve gotten more and more schoolwork; now she sees them only for a 20 minute dinner, and spends the rest of the evening playing homework cop. Since I’m not (yet) a parent, it was great to see this perspective, and I think it is one that most parents will easily identify with.

The movie also does a great job of tracing the disenchantment with school faced by boys, following one young man through the film who, although he loves wrestling for the high school team, ultimately ends up dropping out of regular high school and pursuing an alternative school degree. While I wouldn’t say the movie is exactly filled with hope, it is nice to see how most of the students featured in the film do find more meaning in their lives by perusing things they truly enjoy.

There are a number of excellent psychologists who are interviewed extensively, including Madeline Levine, author of The Price of Privilege, How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage are creating a Generation of Unhappy Kids (gotta add this book to my reading list). These interviews greatly add weight to the film.

Finally, the movie does deal with some very difficult issues, including anorexia and suicide. While these pieces are well done, these topics could prove fairly weighty for freshmen and younger kids, unless properly scaffolded.

So overall, I think this film presents a fairly good narrative of the challenges faced by students in the modern school system, perhaps even better than Waiting for Superman, which seems to be generating a ton of buzz right now.

Now, the next step for getting a screening on my campus is following up with the administration, and showing them a copy of the screener that I’ve managed to get from the producer. There are still a lot of questions, particularly around whether or not we should show this to students, and beyond just whether or not the kids can handle the material (I think they can), my question is are we ready to use this film to start a conversation to spark real change at our school to address these issues?

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