Go See the Other Education Documentary: The Race to Nowhere

I've rarely seen a documentary get as much press before its release as Davis Guggenheim's "Waiting for Superman" has. I've seen the preview in movie theatres about a dozen times now and it always whips the audience into a frenzy, with some people shedding tears over these poor kids who simply want a decent education. But in some education circles, there is a growing rumbling that the well marketed film is not all it appears to be. Some worry that the documentary may help derail important school reform efforts. These folks are disappointed about what they deem to be an anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-progressive education stance on the part of the filmmakers. I'll wait to see the film myself before I comment but educator Rick Ayers has posted his response on the Huffington Post.

A lot of the hoopla surrounding this documentary is thanks to its famous director who shared an Oscar with Al Gore for their high profile "An Inconvenient Truth." I find myself sad that in all the hubbub about "Waiting for Superman," another documentary about the problems facing our schools is being largely ignored. That film, which I recently saw in its very brief L.A. run, is called "The Race to Nowhere."

This important documentary by Vicki Abeles shows the intense pressures that many adolescents face today with mountains of homework, a test-centered school culture, a full slate of extracurricular activities, and desperate expectations about getting into the "best" schools rather than the ones that are the best fit. Abeles started working on the documentary when her own children began to crack under the weight of the daily grind that included absolutely no time for unstructured play or the relatively carefree childhoods my generation enjoyed.

A bunch of teachers, students, and others are interviewed in the film to bring home the point that something has to be done about the non-child-centered focus that is hurting so many children throughout this country. One of the saddest interviews was with a clearly devoted, passionate teacher working with low-income kids in Oakland who finally felt forced to resign from her job after getting so much pressure to stop doing all of the stuff she did that worked with the kids in favor of the soul-killing practices that were geared towards higher test scores at the cost of creating lifelong learners or effective problem solvers. It's impossible not to be moved by the stories of some of these kids including the lovely, talented 15-year-old girl who committed suicide over a bad math grade.

This film is part of a broader movement to reject the craziness that is being mandated from above. The film's excellent website includes many resources and ideas for combating the system. One person interviewed is spearheading the "no homework" movement and makes a strong case for eliminating homework. Thank God my high school daughter's homework isn't as insane as the six plus hours that many of the kids in the film have to do each night, but I'm very interested in the move to abolish homework completely. And by the way, when several AP teachers in the film cut their homework load in half, do you know what happened? Their students' test scores went way UP.

Go see this film...and help stop the insanity!