Saturday, February 27, 2010

Race to Nowhere Screening

This past Tuesday I attended a sold out screening of the documentary film, The Race to Nowhere, The Darkside of America's Achievement Culture, here in Palo Alto, California. I learned about this film when I saw the trailer on the OP-ED video section of the NY Times website a few weeks back. As I posted on Facebook, this is one of the most powerful education-related films that I've seen in my 16 years of experience working in K12 schools. Race to Nowhere essentially chronicles our nation's twisted obsession with 'achivement' at nearly any cost (including the health of our children). Students, parents and families from a wide range of economic backgrounds were included in this film-so if you think this is an issue related solely to the weathy in our country, think again-it is something that is impacting ALL of our youth, regardless of SES. It was a privilege to get the opportunity to hear from the film maker and many of the youth and adults in this film after the movie. I can only hope that this film has the same type of impact on you as it did on me.

So what can be done? One immediate fix that we can make deals with homework. Elementary aged children are often receiving well over an hour of homework each evening, with these numbers increasing dramatically through the middle and high school grades (some high school students report 3 and 4+ hours of homework nightly!) Research shows that ANY homework in the elementary grades has NO impact on student achievement. Anything beyond 60 minutes in the middle grades and 120 minutes in the high school grades yields diminishing returns. An AP Bioology teacher from the film pointed out that when he cut homework in half for his students, their performance on the AP actually went up!

It is unclear when or if this film will make it into theaters, but it will be out on DVD at some point in the future. It is possible to arrange for a screening of the film in your community (I HIGHLY recommend this if it is possible) by visiting the film's website and submitting a request. Until you are able to view the film, keep up with this project by visiting their website and fanning their page over on Facebook.

I posted a few questions to Facebook throughout the screening of the film and I'm including a few of these below. Also included is the trailer posted at YouTube.

There is a strong connection between play and learning, creativity, problem solving, and socialization. Why, then, is play being lost from all of us??

Are we letting kids be kids or are we turning them into "little professionals?"

 Race to Nowhere Trailer:


  1. Thanks for blogging about the film and helping to spread the film's message. We need all those who feel a connection to the issues, to join us in pushing for a new approach. The first step is to raise awareness, dialogue and then the political will to change what we are doing. Looking to transform not reform education. You are correct - we can start with small things like homework.

  2. I'm a big champion of film and films like this, particularly. I'll definitely pass this on. Paramount Vantage just bought Waiting for Superman, which will be released in the Fall. This would be a good sister film to that one, though my guess is that educators would like this one a little better because it's more about the nuts and bolts.

    Thanks Vicki, and thanks for passing this on, Matt.


  3. I am so glad to learn about this film, and will blog on this as well. Glad you were able to see it locally, Matt.

    I think the basic approach of our current and past administrations for federal control of education is flawed. I think we need to maintain our traditionally strong focus on local control, and stop the drive to centralize and campaign for more high stakes / higher stress testing, teaching, and schooling.