Most of the recent documentaries about the American educational system indict it for failing to challenge students enough. They’ve generally blamed the high dropout rate on top heavy school administrations and blasé teachers’ unions that care more about benefits and cutting corners than learning and test scores.
Race to Nowhere takes a novel approach to the problem, by suggesting that kids don’t need longer school days and more homework, but exactly the opposite. Co-directed by Vicki Abeles and Jessica Congdon, the telling expose’ examines the Attention Deficit Generation on its own terms, interviewing students of all ages who complain about wilting under the stress of being micromanaged for success by their well-meaning, if slave-driving parents.
Many have been put on Adderall and other hyperactivity drugs so they can pay attention during class. Plus, they’re being forced to take college-track advanced placement courses, and if they don’t have the gray matter to master the material, no worries, mommy and daddy can always hire tutors.
Between all the overscheduling and the permeation of the day by structured activities, the upshot is that children today are crumbling under the non-stop pressure to behave like little professionals. Whatever happened to self-directed play and the freedom to explore intuitively? It’s gone the way of the tree house and pick-up stickball game.
Instead, boys tend to act out, while girls just get depressed. Consequently, the adolescent suicide rate skyrockets as teachers narrowly “teach to the test,” meaning they focus on high SAT and standardized test scores, while never bothering to cultivate in the kids the critical thinking skills associated with functioning in and contributing to society.
The solution? This sobering study implies that the answer lies in lowering our academic expectations, and just letting the children be children for a change. My guess is that that’s not going to happen anytime soon in a culture where adults choose nursery schools based on which will give their offspring the best shot at admission to the Ivy League.
A mind is a terrible thing to lose!
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes.
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 85 Minutes
Distributor: Reel Link Films