Race to Nowhere Exposes Destructive Impact of Academic Pressure
In her documentary “Race To Nowhere,” Vicky Abeles takes a courageous look at the destructive impact of today’s excessively rigorous academic climate on our children. Through profiles of several high school students, the film relays the amount of stress that today’s students feel as a result of homework, extracurricular activities, sports, tutors, home chores and other responsibilities. Faced with these crippling demands — and the pressures associated with them — many of these children turn to very adult and destructive behaviors. Considering the strain and, often, the damage that students experience as a result of this academic lifestyle, Abeles’ film asks: Where is this path leading us, and is it worth it?
Abeles uses profiles of individual students to illustrate the rigors of today’s educational climate. One particularly heartbreaking story was of a young woman; she was a straight-A student and talented musician, endowed with beautiful blond hair and sparkling eyes — a portrait of perfection in her parents’ and society’s eyes. But her story takes a shocking turn when, without any warning to family, friends or teachers, she takes her own life in order to escape her feelings of inadequacy after failing a test. In subsequent interviews, the parents’ claims to have seen no signs of their child’s distress are mystifying.
Another story documents the steady decline of a student whose grades begin to suffer as she struggles to cope with pressure. Overwhelmed by her imperfections, the young woman trades in the demands of school for the structure and safety of a treatment center to recover from the debilitating anxiety she feels.
Sadly, these stories are all too common. Students today face pressures to excel not only in the classroom, but also in sports, in music, and in a host of other spheres, all at a frantic pace. Our children’s external achievements have become a blanket disguising the subtle yet serious symptoms of our children’s deteriorating emotional health.
If the creation of this destructive environment were a crime, then the culprit, according to the film, is the policies of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, which consider test scores the primary barometer of successful learning. The emphasis on standardized tests to define student success has sacrificed lifelong learning in exchange for immediate gratification for education bureaucrats and politicians. The film cites experts at Stanford University who challenge the philosophy that more homework and increased standardized tests are a substitute for deeper, more personal learning. Today’s students are taught to value memorization and regurgitation, and the associated pressures lead them to shortcuts, medical stimulants, and even cheating as means to pass tests and get good grades.
Students sprint their way through the academic race to succeed, but this race, as the film’s title suggests, is a race to nowhere. The race to get good grades, excel on tests, and become successful students, community leaders, and star athletes compromises both the emotional and physical well-being of today’s children. The film exposes the need for today’s educators, parents, administrators and teachers to step back and re-evaluate the direction and philosophies of our educational system.
As a first-time filmmaker, and motivated by her own concerns as a parent, Vicky Abeles delivers her message with compassion and honesty. By sharing her personal experience as a parent, she allows her message to touch not only the teachers and students who confront these conflicts but parents as well. The film conveys a powerful message to today’s educators and will resonate with both a national and international audience. #
For more information and upcoming screenings please go to www.RaceToNowhere.com