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February 10, 2011

"Race to Nowhere"

Last night my son's school had a screening of a most disturbing film: Vicki Abeles' "Race to Nowhere."  The documentary contains interviews with students, teachers, a dean of education at Stanford University, parents and psychologists...all addressing the current state of affairs in the education system from the earliest years through the teens.  In case you hadn't noticed, more and more our children are being taught to be good (or excellent) test-takers, as opposed to good thinkers.  There are the ERBs, the PSATs, the SATs the ACTs, the 4th grade and 8th grade standardized tests, admissions tests for specialized schools, the tests that prepare kids to take these tests and in states like New York, the Regents Exams.  Stress-levels are high, even at the pre-kindergarten level, for if you don't go to the right pre-K, you might not get into the right elementary school that will set you up for someday attending Harvard; cheating is commonplace;  teen suicides are no longer rare.  Excessive homework keeps kids up so late that many of them are sleep deprived, on top of being stressed and depressed.

One teen interviewed remarked that his life from school to tests to college and onto the workplace just seems like a "race to nowhere."  What's the point, if you're unprepared and uninspired?

There is a grassroots effort afoot to reduce homework and adjust our system to reward better teaching. The film mentions a study that demonstrated that a no-homework policy actually led students to better scores.  (Do you think less homework meant less stress?  more sleep? better conditions for test-taking?)   I think it would be great if the quality of teaching nationwide was such that a lot of learning could take place right in the classroom and aside from team projects or other long-range assignments, little or no homework be assigned.  I also feel that slower learners be separated from quick studies, so that teachers aren't forced to "teach to the middle," as one of my son's teachers in elementary school told me she did.  This would help everyone learn at their own pace, and then truly, no child would be left behind.

After our screening, we were treated to a panel discussion with a group of child psychiatrists from the NYU Child Study Center, who offered that public policy ignores well-known scientific findings....simple things like starting school later than 7 or 8 am, so that kids can get the extra sleep they need.

The film's website has a page that will help you find a screening near you.

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