On November 10, Inly School hosted a free public screening of the documentary, Race to Nowhere. The event was hosted by the Inly Parents Group and drew parents, educators, and students from all over the South Shore. Indeed, the place was packed, indicating that attention to the balance of social/emotional development of children with the demands of academics a hot topic.
The film, directed by Vicki Abeles, takes a deeper look into “the dark side of America’s achievement culture,” and offers “a call to mobilize families, educators, and policy makers to challenge current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens.”
Inly’s Head of School, Donna Milani Luther, facilitated a discussion following the movie. Below are two reviews of the film: one by an Inly parent and another that was co-written by two Inly 7th graders.
A Review By Jill Baxter, Inly Parent
Race To Nowhere is a horror film. Whether it is high schoolers frankly discussing the necessity of cheating, prevalent drug use to be able to fit more in, or the specters of insomnia, cutting, eating disorders, or suicide, what the film brings to light should terrify us all.
The film takes us to a variety of communities across the country where adolescents are dealing with overwhelming pressure to be the best at everything. With well-edited commentary from parents, experts, and students, Race To Nowhere exposes the ridiculous pressures adolescents endure to meet the expectations of our current system. It documents the rat race that our children have been forced to internalize—a culture that promotes achievement at any cost, that mandates hours of homework each night, requires hours of sports practice and extracurriculars at the same time, and then categorizes even the smallest slip as hopeless failure.
Our children are immersed in a culture with an ideal that is impossible to achieve. High schoolers, middle schoolers, even elementary students shouldn’t feel pushed to maintain top grades while achieving in every arena in a quest to gain admission at “good” colleges. The quest for the “best” application, the “best” list of extracurriculars, the “best” academic record, is driving our children to the breaking point. Our nation’s schools are churning out students so burned out that they are incapable of holding onto the very goal they are killing themselves to achieve: four years at a “good” college. Pulling all-nighters in a caffeine stupor used to be the domain of the ill-prepared college student, the first-year law associate, the overworked investment banker. Now this sleep-deprived province features stressed-out middle schoolers.
But scarier than all the suffering and struggles of our students is that this notion that our kids must be “best” is buttressed by us—by parents wanting the “best” opportunities for their children. Of course, we aren’t guilty by ourselves. As the film notes, the problem is at once nebulous and staggering. Our culture of achievement has been built over time by a number of factors, and change seems almost as impossible as our students’ schedules.
So what can we do? The film makes several suggestions, but I think the single best thing we can do as parents is remember that our kids deserve a childhood. We all want what is best for our kids—the task now is redefining what that means. Why shouldn’t happiness figure into our kids education? Isn’t the task of education to teach kids to think critically and cultivate a desire to learn? Shouldn’t children emerge from a school system refreshed and ready for the next challenge rather than exhausted and demoralized? I left with a resolve to let my kids be kids and to better appreciate their desire to play or relax on their own terms. I hope some of the audience also left willing to challenge their own ideas of “best.”
If you didn’t get a chance to see the movie, please check out the website www.racetonowhere.com.
A Review by Gabby J. and Lucy K., Inly 7th Grade Students
The movie Race to Nowhere is a documentary about the stress that kids face these days caused by over-demanding schoolwork and extracurricular activities that over pack student’s schedules resulting in not enough play and family time.
It was especially impactful on us because we are students who are currently beginning the search for the right high school and don’t want to end up in a place where we are unhappy. Although we do not have nearly as much work as that described in the movie, it can often be stressful. Students of this day are so caught up in trying to do everything perfect to please everybody else that they forget to please themselves.
This movie reminded us that we need to take the necessary breaks from schoolwork and get enough sleep and food and not beat ourselves up over one bad grade because, if not, it will impact our social and academic life severely.
Overall, we loved the movie and realized how shockingly true it is and what a problem it is right now in the United States. All throughout the movie they pointed out that the other countries that are ending up with better overall test scores than the United States, tend to assign less homework. Homework puts so much stress on students that they stop completing the process thoughtfully and start doing it just for the product or grade.
One third grader said “You have to do well now so you can get into a good college.” It’s astonishing how early the system takes away childhoods. “I’m afraid that our children our going to sue us for stealing their childhoods,” one child specialist said.
The pressure begins at such an early age that many students really don’t have much of a childhood. They come home and have so much homework leaving no time to simply play outside like children should. That makes us very grateful that we are allowed to have recess at Inly—all the way through middle school.