A different sort of education documentary schools Carmel, then Monterey.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Documentary films on America’s flawed education system aren’t rare, but the recent momentum behind Bay-Area produced Race to Nowhere certainly is. Despite the fact that marketing for the film is purely online and word-of-mouth, the 2009 film has fielded more than 700 requests for screenings across the country, and the viewing audience is half a million and counting.
The film studies students, parents and faculty from schools across the country with a testimonial-based approach, posing a series of questions about the current educational system, including: How have political and economic influences, including 2001’s No Child Left Behind Act, created a one-size-fits-all mode of measuring success? Can standards be set too high? Are entry and exit-level tests beneficial or detrimental to the majority of students? What exactly are students preparing for, and what kind of programs will foster educated, engaged, creative and productive human beings?
The film’s genesis came when its director, Vicki Abeles, felt compelled to explore the issue after her daughter, a 7th grader, was diagnosed with a stress-induced illness. In an interview with ABC’s Katie Couric, Abeles elaborated.
“I think our performance-oriented culture and education system is creating a generation of kids who are depressed, anxious, and in many cases have checked out,” she said. “[We have] a narrow definition of a successful young person.”
The film’s message is resonating. After viewing the film in Santa Cruz last year, Edmund Gross, director of curriculum and instruction for Carmel Unified School District, scheduled a screening for the film at Carmel High. He believes the film is a must-see for parents: “In some cases there’s been an over-scheduling of children, of high school students. I don’t believe that Carmel Unified has created this atmosphere, but I think it is important that parents consider the health of their children.”
Runaway competitiveness, he adds, is part of that push. “We have this American ‘college-going’ culture… I see students work so hard to get into the most competitive college, but it’s not always the right school for them. Kids have great aspirations, and parents and teachers and guidance counselors should be working together to ensure that their course of study is a match.”
Carmel High School teacher Bill Schrier, who teaches AP World History and AP Government and Politics, reduced the amount of homework he gives students after viewing it, and feels the film is “philosophically” important to consider. “We’ve gotten into the mindset that homework is inexplicably tied to academic success,” he says. “I’m not so sure that’s a truism.”
Another screening of the film was recently added at the Golden State Theatre, sponsored by the Monterey Bay Charter School.
MBCS board member and parent Melanie Stakpole, who pitched the idea to the board after following the film through website, trailers and its Facebook page, has been advocating for a screening since she heard about the film in October. “As parents, we all have the same goals for our children, to be healthy and productive members of society,” she says.
The film’s website urges community involvement on a grassroots level and includes a petition to “End the Race,” which encourages a broader-based curriculum, elimination of a resources-for-test-results system, and restrictions to the number of hours students are in school and spend outside of school.
RACE TO NOWHERE screens 6:30pm Friday, March 25, at Carmel High School Performing Arts Center, 3600 Ocean Ave., Carmel, and 6:30pm Friday, April 29, at the Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St., Monterey. $10 online; $15 at the door. www.racetonowhere.com