‘Race to Nowhere’ Should Think Outside the School

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Kate Fridkis and featured by the Huffington Post. In it, she shares her thoughts about some of the issues raised and addressed in a 2009 documentary film, Race to Nowhere, co-directed by Vicki Abeles. It is worth noting that this film has become a grassroots sensation already feeding a groundswell for change. Hundreds of theaters, schools and organizations nationwide are hosting community screenings during a six-month campaign to screen the film nationwide. Tens of thousands of people are coming together, using the film as the centerpiece for raising awareness, radically changing the national dialogue on education and galvanizing change.

To read the complete article, please click here.

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Race to Nowhere.” Great title. I love that a kid says it, in the film. He’s trying to put his life into words. He pauses, searching for the right phrase. “It’s like a… race to nowhere.” Well done, kid.

What a disturbing film. It’s full of teenagers patiently, articulately explaining how they were hospitalized for severe anxiety. How they developed anorexia. How they want to die when they fail. How school is killing them.

These kids stay up all night, doing homework, they go to school and then to sports, and then to something artistic, and then to the tutor, to help them keep up in school, and then they have five minutes for dinner, and then homework starts again. Who are they? They are The American Teenager. The ones who don’t just drop out in disgust and frustration, that is. The ones who are fighting to get into a good college, or just a college, as colleges close their stately gates on more students every year. The kids from affluent families are fighting to have the same opportunities as their parents — it’s harder now. The kids from poor backgrounds are fighting to have opportunities their parents never had, and their options are constricted by lack of scholarships and inability to pay for the colleges they do get into. Everyone is fighting desperately to get in somewhere.

College, explains one of the students in the film, is where you finally start learning. It’s where your life starts. All of this, right now, this is just the business of getting into college.

A teacher interviewed in the film mentions that his father works in a psych ward. He always knows when finals are, because the beds are full of college students who can’t cope. It’s not so surprising, really, when you consider how critical it is that students succeed in college. After all, their entire lives have been focused on getting there.

But the worst part of the tragic story about the state of American schooling is not the tremendous effort expended by students towards goals that don’t even make much sense, or the sacrifice of childhood, or the anorexia, or even the suicides that occur when someone gets a bad grade for the first time. The worst part is the helplessness.

No one can do anything. It’s as though there is simply nothing to be done.

Parents watch helplessly as their children suffer. They drive their children dutifully to the emergency room and the therapist and the psychiatrist and the pediatrician. And then they drive their children to the tutor again. They ask, “How was school?”

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Kate Fridkis blogs about body image and being a young woman in Manhattan at Eat the Damn Cake and he blogs about homeschooling/unschooling at Skipping School . Homeschooled until college, she recently received a Master’s from Columbia University and is the lay cantor at Congregation Kehilat Shalom in central New Jersey. Kate’s writing has appeared many times on Jezebel, AOL’s front page, Mamamia, and more. She writes a column for Home Education Magazine.

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