Race to Nowhere: From a student's point-of-view

Way back in February, I mentioned a documentary on education, The Race to Nowhere.  If you missed that super-short post, click here.  I finally, almost two months later, saw the film.  I was so thought full (yes, I just typed that as two separate words on purpose) after seeing the film that my friend and I literally sat in my car in her driveway to almost 11pm discussing it.

Apparently, we weren't the only two moved.  One of my amazing college students, Jasmine, had something to say about the film.  Today's post is brought to you by Jasmine - a sophomore majoring in teacher education.

Take it away, Jasmine.

There are many concerns amongst teachers, parents, and students about the impact of current school programs and high-stake tests on students' well-being. The government and some educators do not realize the stress many children experience during the school year. The impact this stress has on the students not only affects the students cognitively, but also physically and emotionally. After viewing the documentary, Race to Nowhere by Vicki Abeles, I am now aware of the stress that not only students go through, but their parents and their teachers, as well. I have also developed an opposing viewpoint against the way the government influences school programs across the nation.

As I watched Race to Nowhere, I immediately thought of my father. When the students would talk about the heavy emphasis their parents put on them about school, I knew exactly how they felt because my father was the same exact way as the parents mentioned. Throughout the documentary, I began to feel like I was in grade school; remembering all the stress I went through to get where I am today. I began watching the documentary as an educator and teacher and finished watching the documentary as a heartfelt student whose voice needs to be heard.

Personally, I believe the documentary is necessary and should to be shown in every school district. From my point of view, our voice - the voice of a student - is not being heard and that needs to change immediately. There are many peers of mine that stress themselves out to do well on a subject to please the teachers, but not themselves. For instance, a close family member of mine is a devoted mother, who works two jobs, takes 17 credits at a community college and is a member of the college’s honor society. She often experiences anxiety attacks even when the professors mention to her that she is doing very well. Though she receives positive feedback, she somehow feels that she is not doing enough because of the stringent requirements of the four-year college she will be transferring to next. This message, in my opinion, is what the documentary strives to convey. Students are overstressed.  Students need to have minimum school related stress so they can balance multiple priorities in their lives such as their health, participation in activities like sports, work and family. As discussed in one of my education classes, students need recess time in school so they are able to recuperate from sitting in their seats all day long doing seat work. When a student is overloaded with piles of school work and high stakes tests, often times recess is eliminated or lessened.  Without recess or down time, students are unable to reflect on what they have learned and they begin to develop serious physical and/or emotional problems, such as sleep deprivation. Overall, Race to Nowhere is evidence this message needs to be heard amongst everyone involved in education to not only better the students' well-being, but the future of this nation and world.

As a student, I have been impacted by this documentary emotionally. Throughout the documentary, I had an urge to scream out these students are right; what the educators are saying is true; and the government needs to change its demanding mandates that cause undue stress on students and teachers. To do so, one idea involves rethinking homework.  According to current studies, reducing the homework load in half has a positive impact on academic achievement. Perhaps, schools could consider this research and change their homework policies and workload to lesson student stress.  On http://www.racetonowhere.com/, there are many resources for myself, both as a student and a future educator. I am more aware of ways to make my educational experience more meaningful and how to adequately manage time spent on school-related activities.

As a future educator, I now am more cognizant of a student's cry for help. I am currently thinking of ways to increase student achievement in my future classroom while reducing my students' out-of-class workload. I am also considering how to incorporate more kinesthetic, hands-on learning.  If students are undergoing stress in school (and possibly at home), I will be proactive and be sure my students are engaged, but not overtaxed.  Overall, the documentary has made me think more about the techniques and lesson plans I will employ to manage my future classroom, as well as, be an effective teacher.
Though the documentary was educational and inspirational, there is still an underlying problem of who places mandates on our schools. Though teachers can slightly alter the students' workload, they often cannot change the local, state, or national mandates. A driving force is the fact that the government, with its laws and mandates, has tremendous power over our school systems. Though the documentary sparks attention, the issue that needs to be addressed is how educators can meet the needs of their curriculum while honoring the mandates and still make school meaningful to the children. In doing so, this will end the race to nowhere.

Race to Nowhere by Vicki Abeles is a valuable resource for myself and many other people interested in improving education. It is time for change in our schools; voices need to be heard. With the momentum of this documentary, many voices can be heard through the petition to “end the race.” Awareness about the nature of our schools is imperative and I am proud to be an advocate. 

Do you see why I love my job?  I teach current teachers and bright, future teachers like Jasmine.

Go see Race to Nowhere.  You can click here for screenings.  If you haven't seen Waiting for Superman, another documentary on education, perhaps you can treat yourself to a double-feature.

Thank you, Jasmine, for sharing your point-of-view.  Your students are going to be one lucky group to have you as their teacher one day.