Story and photo by Evan Miglorie
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
More than 200 people gathered in the West Seattle High School theater last night to watch – and talk about – “Race to Nowhere,” a documentary that sets out to examine what it warns is “the dark side of America’s achievement culture.”
The night began with an introduction delivered in person by the film’s director, Vicki Abeles. Her film interviews five several students on their experience with the intense pressures of our education system. Teachers were also interviewed, contending that modern educational systems place too much emphasis on memorization for tests, rather than actual learning. Another main concern voiced by parents, teachers, and psychologists was the unyielding pressure to perform. The impacts of this come at a high cost, they warn – drugs, cheating and even suicide can result from too much pressure put on young students.
So what do local students think? Some spoke out right after the film.
After the film, a panel of students sat on the stage to share their reactions to the film. One offered, “Finals is the most stressful time of my year, I end up prioritizing badly and place more value on my finals than on myself. I forget about my health.”
Eventually, other viewers got the chance to chime in; one parent said, “This isn’t an issue unique to students, it’s an issue of our culture. We are all functioning on an ideal of success that is related to a business ideal. Kids shouldn’t feel isolated; the adult world is living through this and working through it as well.”
Parents explored ideas of how to support and motivate their children in a way that is true to their own character. Another viewer said, “When we tell our children ‘I want you to be happy,’ we need to mean that. If they make a decision of their own, value their authenticity and their choices.”
The event advocated, both through the film and a promotional flyer, many different ways you can help keep your child healthy and motivated. Some suggested ways for teachers and parents to help: Attending PTA and school board meetings to voice your opinion; challenge accepted homework policies; avoid overscheduling; reduce performance pressure; limiting the number of advanced classes your child takes; stop grading homework; find ways to assess students’ progress beyond tests and homework. Finally, eating dinner regularly as a family was deemed as an important ritual, for a multitude of reasons.
“Race to Nowhere” contends the education system is damaging U.S. children’s growth and character, but offering hope if parents and teachers choose to take action to change that. It’s been screened in schools and similar venues – the West Seattle showing was co-sponsored by the Washington Education Association – and at film festivals. Its website (racetonowhere.com) says it’s expected to be out on DVD this fall.