Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Race To Nowhere

As I was reading a magazine in the orthodontist's office this afternoon while waiting for Kenny to finish his latest adjustment, I stumbled across something that seemed so timely that it was almost spooky.  This ongoing conversation we have all had here on the blog the past week or so in response to my education posts revealed a lot of heated emotions, and a lack of understanding likely due in large part to my inability to articulate things well enough.  Also, I truly believe that I could make the exact same statements about the craziness of public education if our kids were still in public school and I would get a lot of vigorous head nods from others rather than the thinking that I somehow feel homeschooling is something everyone should do. Not at all the truth, just a right decision for our situation and our family...definitely not the right decision for others.

However, my passionate feelings regarding wanting to get our kids off the merry-go-round that our society sees as the only path to gaining a solid education was met with derisionby a few, and the mistaken sense that we want to deny our kids a college education or "call the shots" for them.  This single minded focus on SAT's and college prep is killing our kids, literally.  It kills their spirit, it kills their intellectual curiosity, and sometimes, it takes away their very life.  Think I am nuts?  Well, you definitely might be right about that :-) but it seems tens of thousands of others are seeing the lunacy of all of it as well.  What I found in the magazine was a short article about a film called "Race to Nowhere", in which this very same topic is addressed in depth.  I may be crazy, but I discovered I am not alone.  My thoughts about all of this, and wanting to make decisions that we feel are healthier for our kids, are not as odd as I was made to feel they were and I instantly felt a little validated upon reading the article (I think it was in something like Family Circle or one of those magazines).   Mind you, whether we homeschooled or not I would try and steer our kids away from thinking they had to jump on the Stress Express that our high schools have become.  The discussion about homeschooling really has nothing at all to do with the college band wagon and our approach as a society to education in general. 

Quotes from the trailer that I found insightful were "Our students are pressured to perform, they're not necessarily pressured to learn, especially learn deeply and conceptually."  and another "I'm afraid that our children are going to sue us for stealing their childhoods."  The trailer alone backed up what I was trying to say so well, and I was surprised to discover that anyone else at all was tackling this complex issue.  This film is not some sort of "out of left field" documentary, it has been very favorably reviewed by many big names and newspapers.  Check out the trailer:

We all may agree to disagree, there are many of us that will likely never find ourselves on the same page about this subject, but this is really deep food for thought, and something every parent should at least consider as they look to the academic future of their child.  Our job is not just to get our kids into good colleges, or have them score great paying jobs.  Our job, as parents, is also to help them become healthy, whole individuals.  It also means showing them that they can create the life they want to have, that there are many different paths to the same objective, and that they are never "boxed in" unless they allow that to happen.  And yes, it means helping them learn to have the courage to do things differently, to refuse to "sell their soul" for a grade...or a paycheck.  Because it flat out isn't worth it.  They lose too much in the process.

I realize that for many, there IS no other way than the established norm, and to even consider any other alternative is fraught with way too much uncertainty.  That's fine!  Continue on, you may have one of those kids that thrive with that kind of pressure.  We all know folks like that exist.  But many, many do not thrive, many lose themselves along the way and it takes years, if not decades, to discover who they really are outside the system that created them.

At least the conversation has begun, and we can all enter in as we feel led.  That's what America is all about, not falling lockstep behind others!  Guess I'll never be very good at that myself :-)


Anonymous said...

As a former school teacher I can still say, "Amen, Sister". When I entered college there were no SATs. Even then there was an emphasis on grades for scholarships but much less for entrance. We discount some very fine educational opportunities post high school that are available in our own communities.

A friend who is a current elementary school teacher said sadly, "We have lost the ability to have spontaneity and creativity in education. We teach to the tests." She is referring to CSAPs, the Colorado tests.

There were tests when I was young but not every year. They measured personal progress and could be used to remediate one child's education where necessary. Teacher's performance was not measured by test performances, and there was a recognition that home and community also affect the ability of a child to learn. We seem to have forgotten these things.

I support public schools but know that there are other alternatives. I also know that even where homeschooling might be a good option there are parents who do not have the skills and desire to teach, and children whose relationship with their parents would not provide a good educational milleau.

We are now seeing internet teaching become a possibility here. I don't know how well that will meet the needs of the student, but even our schools are considering that on a case by case basis. We also have alternative schools--all signs that even school districts are continuing their evaluation of the effectiveness of public schooling.

Just a few thoughts,

Anonymous said...

Thank you for making me think about my childrens' educations and for validating my thought that my kids don't need to be over-scheduled with every minute of their day planned out for them! I applaud all of your hard work and you are raising such awesome kids!


Anonymous said...

Another good film to check out is, "Waiting for Superman."

Beth said...

Hi Cindy,

Thought of you as I read this NYTimes Sunday Magazine on the importance of character, as opposed to academic smarts, in achieving success in life.


Laura said...

Every parent should see Race To Nowhere. Our teacher's union gave a public viewing and it was well-received by our community. It really makes you think. I have two young adult children who stressed through high school, have post-graduate degrees and underpaid jobs. For our 14-year-olds, we have decided to take advantage of vocational classes, and have them live and home and go to our wonderful community college.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for the article link --

I read it and passed it on to my kids' school.


Anonymous said...

I've always believed the best place for kids is home! Though ours have/are attended public school, we started them after one year of K at home (just to be older upon entrance)and skipped the entire preschool thing. They are all very social and the ones gone now from home successfully pursuing their passions. I've never really pursued many friends over or them going to friends house very much...we had our own "friends" already in the family to spend time with. Not that they didn't and don't have many friends, but I figure they spend all day with them at school or on teams, the rest of their time is mine! They are gone all too soon away from us.

Years ago, we chose not to do the "running" for our young kids. The fact that we live on a farm, far from organized classes, etc. helped in the decision. But I've always wanted as much time with my kids as possible...even before I knew from experience how quickly they grew up and away.

They did begin organized school sports in middle school...and that's when the running began. All but our last daughter have had a keen interest in sports. She's very interested in music, though we've encouraged her to try sports in middle school for what they can teach and just to be comfortable with balls and such for situations in the future where others are doing such activities at a church picnic, etc. We doubt she will choose to be involved in sports in high school, and that's ok. All of our kids have kept quite busy with school and school sports and activities. We see a lot of value in them being involved with good coaches, teammates, learning time management, discipline, etc. And a number of our eight seem to also do better when they keep busy. But we also live in a small, rural community, where they receive much support and encouragement from nearly everyone knowing everyone. And we also view our time in the bleachers as time to get to know community members and develop friendships with them...hopefully we are a witness of Christ's love to them. And maybe...of a different way of doing some things, as in valuing family time as much as possible in the midst of also being involved.

edited into parts as usual...too long


Anonymous said...


But in between all the activities(when, some might ask?), we do guard our family time. We eat as many meals together as possible, have devotions in the morning together, work together on the farm, play with cousins across the road and visit grandparents next door...while also giving them free time to explore the groves, read, fabricate swords from lathe and trashcan lids in the shop, canoe and swim in the creek, and relax. I'm sure we are still busier than we need to be, but I also know that our family life is quite different from that of many of their friends. Our high school kids have never spent much time in town running around...a blessing of living on the farm. We're often found in the evenings, watching DVD episodes of the Cosby and Walton families (good family values and parents in charge), and movies from our collection. I look around to see two 17yr olds and two 15yr olds, happy to be watching an animated movie with their family, and I marvel and am thankful we can choose to spend as much time together as possible.

Schoolwork? We do have to encourage them to do their best, as these last four are pretty happy just to remain eligible for sports or to spend time with friends at school, but we're happy if they're doing their best and using the gifts and talents God gave each of them. Of course, we want them each to find their own interests and passions. With two still working on progressing through more difficult English reading/writing and comprehension and two boys, this second wave of kids is more challenging than our first four older daughters. Hubby and I have never helped with so much homework before in our lives! Though, unless they are pulling the wool over our eyes, I have noticed less homework this year. They all have a study hall, where they tell me they are completing theirs. We shall find out at midterm! I agree with the premise of the movie. Thanks for telling us about it. I would love to have a showing in our community and will pass the word along to school staff to check it out.

The result of all of this? We see in our older daughters the ability to problem solve for their job/ college/or family situation. They are creative in their approach to those things. And they still value time with their parents and younger sibs still at home. We are blessed! We don't take credit for much of this, but realize God gave us the convictions to be a strong family, and the wisdom to know how to help Him accomplish some of this.

You, Cindy, are also a very creative and attentive mom, and Dominick the same kind of dad. Keep up doing what you know is best for your own kids. That's all any of us can do.

Sorry, but you always give me food for thought as well as the urge to gab!

Nancy in the Midwest