Last September I blogged the trailer for the movie, Race to Nowhere, which focuses on the achievement pressures faced by many of our schoolchildren. Today I had an opportunity to attend a screening of the full movie. Here are 30 quotes from the film. Some of these might not be word-for-word but they’re close; I was paying attention to the movie, not my typing. I’ve highlighted my 8 favorites from the list below…

  1. RacetonowhereI can’t really remember the last time I just went outside and ran around
  2. We do whatever it takes to get an A
  3. When I had kids, I didn’t think that the only time I’d see them was for 20 minutes at dinner
  4. These kids are so overscheduled and tired … I’m afraid that our children are going to sue us for stealing their childhoods
  5. We want the best for them [so] we put pressure on them to be what we want them to be
  6. [All of this pressure] ends up turning kids into little professionals
  7. I figured out that not eating gave me more energy … but it still wasn’t enough to get everything done
  8. My school principal told me [when I tried to return from a treatment facility for anorexia and anxiety] that she didn’t want the teachers to have to worry about me – I was too much of a distraction for them [and other students]
  9. We lose boys because they tune out and we lose girls to depression
  10. The countries that outperform us on international tests actually give less homework than we do in the United States
  11. At what point did it become okay for schools to dictate how we spend our lives after the bell rings? [regarding homework]
  12. Parents need to educate themselves that homework isn’t going to make their students any smarter
  13. When American kids encounter questions [on international assessments that don’t look like what they’re used to from their rote practice], they fall apart
  14. These tests that they do so horrible on – they don’t test my kids on the curriculum, they test them on their culture and their culture isn’t represented on the tests
  15. I tell my [urban] students that learning is power – to do whatever you want to do in life, you have to be a learner and you have to care – that is not what the district wants from me as a teacher
  16. If we forget this  or do a different one, then we’re going to get in trouble and we’ll lose 5 minutes of recess [4th grader]
  17. Your 6–month-old is supposed to be sucking on his toes and thumbs, not doing flashcards
  18. [Students say] ‘The teacher doesn’t care – it’s just busy work – why CAN’T I just copy my homework?’
  19. The point of education is to learn, not memorize
  20. It’s impossible to cover all of the material for the AP course in one year. Literally impossible.
  21. After my daughter passed her AP French exam, she said, “I never have to speak French again.”
  22. So much of [kids’] time is structured. The only unstructured time they seem to have is the time they spend on the computer.
  23. What’s happening these days is that kids aren’t getting a chance to find out what they love to do.
  24. They’re 4 or 8 [years old] and they’re resume-building
  25. Parents say ‘My child is a good kid.’ No, they were a good performer. You never found out if they were a good kid. You just know they’re a good student, not a good solid kid.
  26. I stopped trying because if you don’t try, you can’t fail.
  27. I think that success in America is measured by how much money you make, not how happy you are in your life
  28. The environment and culture are so competitive that kids don’t feel like they can ever let people see their true selves
  29. If you’ve always had As, there’s only one way to go and that’s down, so that B feels like a failure
  30. We need to redefine success for kids … We have to get off this treadmill together. [We have to discuss] what does it take to create a happy, motivated, creative human being?

Discussion afterward

Here are a few statements afterward from the international educators and others who watched the film:

  1. None of us went into education to inflict harm on children but when you put it all together the net effect is often much different.
  2. At my previous school we eliminated homework and instead gave families a booklet called ‘Supporting Learning’ that gave them ideas of things they could do at home with their kids instead.
  3. How many of you assign homework? How would you handle a parent that asked if their child could opt out of the homework you assign? [this question was mine]
  4. Five to seven hours a day at school are plenty of time to do what we need to do academically with students
  5. Many of your parents have dedicated much of their lives to preparing students for Harvard (a process Alfie Kohn calls ‘Preparation H’). How do you handle it when as educators you’re trying to slow down, reduce workload, stop the ‘race to nowhere,’ etc. for kids but parents aren’t buying what you’re selling? [this question was mine]
  6. We have a responsibility to assuage the collective anxiety that we feel about ‘doing well.’

The film is about an hour long. Although it’s targeting what are in many ways polar opposite issues and demographics compared to Waiting for Superman, the film is well worth a watch. I greatly appreciated the opportunity to finally see it.

Closing thoughts

My children are 13, 10, and 6; so far they have been ‘excellent students.’ They live in a college town community and attend schools in which there is a lot of academic pressure on students – from parents, from other kids’ parents, from educators, from student peer groups, from society in general, etc. How much of that is being internalized by my children despite the messages that we try to send at home? Although my wife and I repeatedly discuss with our kids that learning is supposed to be a joyful experience – that we’d much rather that they love what and how they’re learning and have a chance to pursue their interests than get good grades – I still worry about what messages they’re incorporating into their mental models of success. It’s an ongoing conversation and battle and I’m not completely certain that we’re winning. I’m also uncertain if the fact that I’m a workaholic – albeit on things for which I’m usually interested and passionate – helps or hinders my cause with my kids.

I’ve recommended to my school district leadership team (administrators and school board) that they do a screening of this film for local parents. They’ve shown no interest to date, which is unfortunate because this film is extremely relevant for our community and our families.

I try to remember to ask my kids daily if they have a happy life. I hope they’ll always be honest with me.