What started as one mother’s concern for her children’s well-being has turned into a social, political and educational message that has been sweeping across the nation. Former Wall Street lawyer and mother of three, Vicki Abeles, produced the documentary called Race to Nowhere: The Dark Side Of America’s Achievement Culture about the overwhelming stress schools place on their students.
The film premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival and since then has been screened in churches, schools and community centers across the nation. It has received critical acclaim and the New York Times called it a “must-see movie.” Although it originally traveled by word-of-mouth, the film has been getting attention from multiple forms of media which eventually brought it to Jefferson Elementary School.
“I saw it previewed on the Today show,” said Tiffany Storm, mother of a first grader in the area. “I’m really interested to see what the film says. I feel like there is already a level of stress present that didn’t exist when I was in school.”
Parents and teachers filed into Jefferson Elementary’s auditorium to watch the film. For two hours, the audience listened to gripping testimonies from students, parents, teachers, professors and doctors their experiences with stress in the today’s faulty school system.
Some of the testimonies were highly disturbing and produced strong reaction from the audience. A thirteen year-old girl who had straight A’s her whole life committed suicide after failing her math test. A high-school student with multiple AP classes became anorexic in order to induce insomnia so she could finish her homework. Students took drugs to study. Students came down with stress-related health problems. Students gave up and dropped out.
However, as the story unfolds, its easy to see that the students weren’t the only ones being affected. Parents and teachers in the film expressed their feelings of helplessness. Parents couldn’t change the amount of classes and extracurriculars their children needed to get into college. Teachers didn’t have time to actually teach in the amount of time they are given with students. Instead, they were expected to get students to pass standardized testing and then send them on their way.
As the film came to an end, the message seemed simple. There was too much work and too much pressure placed on the students with little results.
After the film, the teachers, parents and students who attended the screening were able to participate in a discussion which featured a panel of four long-term educators from around the area, including Jefferson Elementary teacher Kate Alva.
The discussion started without hesitation. When it came to the well-being of their students and children, parents and teachers were not afraid to confront the panel with hard questions.
A concerned parent of a high school student asked how he could approach his child’s teacher and ask her to stop giving busy work as homework. Homework was a major issue of concern in the film, taking some students hours to complete.
“Speak up,” Teacher Kate Alva said. “Teachers don’t understand how long it takes students to do homework. I sent home a parent survey and found out that it was taking my [elementary school] students double the amount of time I thought it would to finish their assignments. It was eye-opening.”
Overall, the questions seemed to center around one basic theme: how do I take stress off my student/child? How can I make a difference?
It was the toughest question of the night. The panel responded pieces of sincere advice.
“This is an archaic system,” Vista Magnet Middle School Principal Jose Manuel Villarreal, Ed. D said. “As teachers, we have pressure to meet the state requirements in order to get funding. But all it takes is one voice and one person. It takes discussions like these and teachers and parents who are willing to help.”
The film raised some serious concerns and is helping to set in motion an already active educational reform.
For anyone who is interested in more details about the film, other screenings or to set up a screening in your community,visit www.racetonowhere.com or go to the movie’s Facbook page at www.facebook.com/racetonowere.