This is, reportedly, what my daughter’s second grade teacher asked her class during a fit of frustration over their less-than-enthusiastic preparation for the looming standardized testing. Several other parents and I were concerned, but felt trapped in the status quo and didn’t really see any way out of the cycle.
Stressed out schoolkids, suicidal teenagers, kids with eating disorders, over-scheduling starting in pre-school, and rampant cheating in secondary schools are all part of what is making up a ‘crisis’ in American education according to mother-turned-filmmaker Vicki Abeles and her new film, A Race to Nowhere, that is currently touring the country in churches and community centers along with Abeles and panels of experts.
I attended one of the screenings here in Atlanta last night with a group of friends who all have or have had high-school aged children and we were all drawn into the film immediately. We all could identify with scenes of crying third graders at the kitchen table being cajoled to finish homework. We all could identify with handing our kids a plate of dinner or a sandwich as they look for their soccer cleats on the way out the door. We all could identify with the two-sided coin of officially disliking standardized testing but being secretly glad and relieved our kids did well on them. We all could identify with the nagging doubts about what college our kids will be ‘good enough’ to get into.
Abeles does a convincing job of laying out her argument, and takes a balanced approach to HOW we can get ourselves out of this cycle. She gives a call to action at the end of the film for parents, students, educators, administrators, health care providers, coaches, and policy makers. She sees herself as facilitating a nationwide conversation.
My large urban school district is currently facing a possible loss of accreditation over complications in the school board that can be traced back to a large-scale cheating scandal here in Georgia. On the other hand, the schools my children attend have all adopted a ‘reform model’ that strives to address many of the underlying issues in Abeles’ film, but is extremely difficult to execute under the state educational standards and regulations. We are constantly looking for ways around them to implement the basic philosophies because the system is set up for ‘teaching to the test.’
Perhaps one of the most telling comments after the screening last night was from a second grade teacher (and echoed by a nearby first grade teacher). She said that because of austerity measures and budget cuts, her children were not taking the standardized testing this year, and that it has changed the the entire culture in her classroom. She is able to enjoy teaching and the kids are able to enjoy learning on a totally different level with out the pressures on both of them to perform on the test.
Have you seen Race to Nowhere? Have you read any of the buzz? Participated in homework or testing boycotts? Written your elected officials? Signed a petition? Seen the effects of stress in your own children? Do you worry your kids will end up ‘under a bridge?” Is performance pressure another “inconvenient truth?”