Monday, February 07, 2011

Review of a Race to Nowhere

Our local school district arranged a showing of Race to Nowhere. Janine took our second daughter last Monday night and then our oldest and I saw it on Tuesday.

Short summary: It is a strong condemnation of the pressure put on some students, by public schools, private schools and parents.

Vicki Abeles, the producer, does a great job of exploring the heavy workload many children face today. The huge amount of homework assigned can be up to six and eight hours a day for high school students. In addition to all the homework, students are often pushed into extra curricular activities. This stresses children out. Surprise, surprise.

Many human endeavors have more than one factor or cause. Vicki points out several here. The biggest factor, especially in the early years, is the schools just love to assign homework. Even in fourth and fifth grade the students will be assigned several hours a day of homework. In the later years there is still lots of pressure from the schools to do homework, and even more homework, but into high school a new source of pressure emerges as parents try to help their children get ready for college.

The movie correctly points out that hours and hours of homework each week don't improve the quality of learning for ten-year-olds. One expert said that homework was of no benefit in elementary school. In middle school up to an hour a day helped and up to two hours a day for high school contributed to the learning process, but more hours didn't have a measurable improvement.

A few of the problems that result from all this pressure are: suicide and drug use. Vicke shares early in the movie about a young girl who had committed suicide. This young girl was a good friend of the family. She had a lot going for her, but the pressure finally broke her.

Because of the tons of homework assigned some students are now using stimulants to get extra hours for completing the homework.

On the flip side of this was how government schools were rough environments for teachers. One teacher quit because she felt like the schools had sucked the life out of her.

There was several people in the movie who claimed that if only the government schools had more money it would help. Part of the claim was if we gave even more money to the schools, especially for the teachers, things would get better. It wasn't clear what the logic was. Why would an increase of money lead to less stress?

Even after all the pressure on students to perform, they are graduating from high school with very little real education and often with little retained knowledge. Half of the students going into the California UC system have to do remedial courses.

The movie acknowledged that this is not a simple problem and thus there is not a simple answer.

I enjoyed the movie. I felt Vicki Abeles did a good job. I agreed with most of what the movie said, other than the claim that more money would help. If you get the chance to watch the movie, it is worth the 90 minutes.

Here is a few minutes from the movie and an interview with Vicki:

Update I: 25 June 2011
My reviews of the 2010 Education Documentaries:
Race to Nowhere - Students are kept extremely busy.
The Cartel - Problems with public schools in New Jersey.
Waiting for Superman - Public schools are broken, but no one is powerful enough to save them.
The Lottery - Many oppose a successful charter school and the children suffer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Children need their own space so that they can explore their talent and creativity. We can't expect anything good by putting pressure on them. Rather, we, the parents should always stand beside to help them learning different things. We should teach them different subjects in different innovative ways so that they love to learn them. Parents, especially mother is the best teacher in a child’s life. The way, she can guide a child, no other can! However, sometimes, it becomes hard for the parents to help children doing homework. In that case, they can take advantage of online tutoring services like