“Race to Nowhere”, the Movie by Vicki Abeles

February 14th, 2011 No Comments

This was a very sobering and thought provoking movie, as it was meant to be.

This documentary systematically demonstrates that education these days is no longer about learning. It is more of a system where teachers are required to teach to the test, and performance is a check-off list.

Creative thought is not encouraged in our schools. When I think of the skills valued in our workplaces; I think of  critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, and curiosity. I also think of the needs for writers  and project leaders. Yet our educational system now discourages individual thinking and innovation. These are the very components that will keep our companies competitive, and staying ahead of the curve.

There is competition in our schools; yes, students feel a need to excel at everything: athletics, academics, music, theater. Their entire day is scheduled with no down time. When they get home from their practices and after school activities, there are hours of homework yet to do. Teachers do not have enough time in class to review all the materials they have to cover, so they assign huge amount of homework. Students stay up half the night trying to complete the assignments and they are exhausted. Many times these exhausted youngsters are discouraged when they arrive at school.

With each day heavily scheduled, there is no time to reflect on and process what is learned. Even holidays and summer are impacted by this workload. In this area, parents may require their children to attend summer school in the subjects to be studied the following year so that they will be ahead of the game. Game is not the word for this, what are we doing to our children and our families?

One of the suggestions in the movie is a no-homework night or no-homework weekend when the students can have time off to play. Play is our children’s work. Play is a great teacher. Downtime is important for all of us and for families. As our current school system is set up, we are creating increasing levels of stress with endless busywork and we are not preparing our students for the true world of work. When my son was in high school, one teacher recognized the tremendous stress of his students. On occasion, he would darken the classroom for his hour with the students. He would ask them to relax and put their heads down on their desks and then he would play classical music. I believe that this is where my son learned to enjoy classical music. Certainly this was the exception and a needed respite from the rigors of the intense daily pressure forced on students. Learning to relax is also important for all of us.

Interestingly the methods of memorization and teaching to the test are not preparing our students even for going on to college; many are not college-ready when they graduate from high school. The percentage of college students that drop out after only one year of college or do not complete their degree is too large. We are not teaching what is needed to be successful in a college environment and we are not teaching what is needed to be successful in the workplace: students are not prepared to think independently and creatively.

Instead as the movie states, we should be teaching our children a love for learning. Lifelong learning is what is needed as we continue to grow as a society. Knowledge and information is increasing dramatically and doubling ever faster as we advance. We cannot learn all that we will need to know over a lifetime in our formal years of study. We will need to continue to update and increase our knowledge over our careers. Things are changing and evolving rapidly and continually. We will need to relearn and reinvent ourselves multiple times over our lifetimes. The love of learning supports this need. If we model love of learning for our children, they will be better prepared for higher education and for the workforce. I believe they will be more content, healthy and self-fulfilled.

Keep learning and growing, focus on lifelong learning.


Ann Smith is a professional trainer and coach focusing on career strategies, leadership and communication and employee engagement.

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