Saturday, December 4, 2010

My Thoughts on "Race To Nowhere"

Last Thursday I got the opportunity to watch Race To Nowhere, a documentary on increasing level of academic pressure and stress in American schools made by producer Vicki Abeles, a lawyer and a mother of three school going children. The screening followed a question answer session with a panel consisting of the producer herself and a few other advisors. The main points made in the documentary have been summarized, praised and critiqued in many excellent online reviews, including one at NY Times, another one at The Huffington Post, a level headed post by a blogger that I particularly liked and a CNN news report, so I would limit this post to my own thoughts.

As I listened to the narratives, the main thought going around in my head was not one of complete agreement or of violent disagreement with the points made, but one of "whatever is true is also not true" about a topic as complex as education in the large and diverse body of students, teachers, parents, schools and policy makers. Yes, some students get burdened with more work and higher expectations than is healthy for them but is that true for all or even a majority of students, at all or even a majority of schools, in all or a even a majority of households? The documentary itself does not include any statistics or scientific research in this area, and relies mostly on individual testimony by parents, students and educators. I have two daughters, one in elementary schools and one in middle school, have known many parents with school going children and interact with a class of middle schoolers on a regular basis, but have never heard anyone complain about burnout or stress due to academic pressure.

There is no denying that we live in a society where success and achievement means a lot, perhaps much more than inner happiness. But that is the world we live in. Thankfully, we also live in a world where individuals can decide what they want from life and make choices accordingly. No one compels a parent to expect his or her child to get A+ in all subjects, do 3+ hours of sports practice, participate in innumerable after-school clubs and, on top, to do social work while completely ignore play, socializing with friends, experimentation and entertainment. In fact, this was the main takeaway for me: there are a lot of things to do out there but it is up to the students and parents to decide what areas and how much effort is appropriate for them.

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