Tag Archives: Race to Nowhere

Race to Nowhere: A Review

4 Mar

I was off-line last week because of winter break.  We visited a few colleges in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area and I will be filing a report later.  I also saw Race To Nowhere – with the ominous tag line: The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture – at a local public school in a neighboring town.  This documentary is so popular that I was shut out of tickets for the screening at our high school.  This film is being shown directly to audiences at schools, colleges, and community organizations around the country (to find a screening near you, go to the movie’s website).  Often a school will host a panel discussion after the film, as was the case at the screening I attended.

The film explores the pressures placed on teenagers from heavy academic and extracurricular demands, and has become a hit in part due to strong word-of-mouth and national media attention.  Another reason for its popularity, I suspect, is because it touches a raw nerve, especially in our upper-middle class suburban enclaves where competition to get into elite universities is acute.

The first-time filmmaker, Ms. Vicki Abeles, is a mother of three who decided to make this film after her doctor told her that her children’s unexplained ailments were due to stress from school.  She interviews kids and parents who talk about how the heavy homework load and extracurricular commitments leave little room for relaxation or family time.  On the go constantly from one activity to the next, the children forego adequate sleep or even in one case, eating, to get everything done.  To cope with the pressures, many take stimulants and illegal prescription drugs or resort to cheating.  The medical professionals interviewed report the effects of stress in their young patients that include anxiety, depression, eating disorders, exhaustion, insomnia, even suicide.

The 90-minute film attempts to examine some of the reasons that contribute to the overload: too much homework, the emphasis on testing as a result of the No Child Left Behind law, the expectation from colleges for students to load up on Advanced Placement (AP) courses, the intense competition to get into college, parental anxiety that their children do better than they.

Ms. Abeles did an admirable job of presenting a complex, multilayered problem, especially since this is her first film.  She has created a thought-provoking and powerful movie that resonated loudly for me because my daughter is in the thick of dealing with the stresses and pressures and I’m always in search of ways to lessen the strains on her.  Judging from the Q and A session afterwards, not everyone agreed with the movie’s message.  One parent questioned whether the film was encouraging mediocrity and lowering of standards; as it is, the US lags behind other European and Asian nations in international math and science tests.  A panelist, a child psychologist, took issue with the way anecdotes were passed off as facts in the movie and pointed out that stress was not always bad and prepared teens for the real world (I don’t have his exact words but this was the gist of his comment).

This movie is worth seeing for the compelling issues it raises and adds greatly to the on-going national conversation about education.  It is rated PG-13.



Chinese Mother Redux

13 Jan

It’s Day Five of the publication of Amy Chua’s essay “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” on Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and it’s still the number 1 read, emailed, and commented article on the WSJ website.

Her article continues to roil passions on all sides and now with the release of her new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, reviewers have had a chance to read the book and give their opinions.  I’m a notoriously slow reader and thanks to the power of social media, I’ll just provide this link to a review written by Jeff Yang, (he’s a friend of a friend).  It’s well written and hope you enjoy his insights.   

I promise this is the last time I’ll blog about her. 

On a related topic, I had mentioned the documentary “Race to Nowhere” by mother-turned-filmmaker Vicki Abeles in a previous post.  I found out that my local public high school will be screening this documentary on March 1, 2011.  It’s about the pressures that high school kids face today in America.  I’m excited to see it and will give a “review” on this blog afterwards.  So stay tuned.

Some Links to Interesting Articles

16 Dec

Just a short post today – the holiday busyness is ratcheting up.  Recently I read a couple of articles in the New York Times that gave me much food – the no calorie type, perfect for this time of year – for thought, and I trust that readers may also find intriguing.

The first article “Parents Embrace Documentary on Pressures of School” by Trip Gabriel published on December 8 concerns a documentary about school pressures that has been making the rounds through various school districts in private screenings.  The documentary called “Race to Nowhere,” was created by Ms. Abeles, a mother and novice filmmaker, and shows how the demands of homework and sports and high expectations combine to exert enormous pressure on teens, so much so that some of them become physically ill.  The article describes the reaction of parents and school officials to the film and much of what is discussed resonated with me.  It might be a film worth bringing to your local school district.

The second article “The Case for Early Decision” by Dr. Robert Massa of Lafayette College, and published on December 13, seeks to set straight some media misperceptions about early decision.  According to him, no college will hold a student to an early decision commitment if the family determines that a financial aid package is insufficient.  He confirms that the chances of being admitted through early decision are better because colleges want the most qualified students.  He also writes that it’s easier to get financial aid during early decision because colleges have not depleted their financial aid budgets yet.  His article is worth reading if only to get a different perspective on early admission.


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