Join 3,440 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


And you're gettin' there fast.
November 11, 2010 11:14 PM   Subscribe

Race to Nowhere (trailer) is a documentary film by first-time director Vicki Abeles that discusses her perception that the US education system has become "obsessed with the illusion of achievement, competition and the pressure to perform. Cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired."

The film premiered last year to much critical acclaim and saw a wider release this fall, with screenings at schools across the country. Abeles talks about her own film in a New York Times Video Op-Ed, but not all the staffers at NYT are fully convinced of the film's merits. Official film website with a variety of links to further resources and a more general call to action, obligatory IMDB link, and an interview with Ms. Abeles.
posted by Phire (18 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
"obsessed with the illusion of achievement, competition and the pressure to perform. Cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired."

This describes my personal experience to a T. And that was in the early 80s, going through what was a fairly well esteemed Catholic school.

Maybe this does resonate with people. And maybe this truly is a modern problem. All I can say is that with the public school system where I send my kids, what they have is 1000% better, more balanced and healthier learning environment than I ever did. I envy the opportunities and environment the kids in these schools have, especially compared to what I had: well intentioned and exclusive and dysfunctional.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:40 PM on November 11, 2010


obsessed with the illusion of achievement, competition and the pressure to perform

... and when we tie teacher pay to students' performance on such illusory and competitive metrics, teaching-to-the-test becomes more common, which I would argue decreases the value of the students' classroom experiences, and, perhaps more seriously, teachers willing to cheat (everything from "forgetting" to take down posters with test-relevant information to flat-out falsifying test results) get an advantage over more-honest teachers.
posted by quarantine at 12:11 AM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


If I was a cynical misanthropic bastard, I'd say that this is what happens when the middle class first feels the squeeze of a lack of upward mobility. This stress on test results, which colleges to go to, is the "whistling in the dark" that people do. The obsession is one of keeping one's line in the same class level they were born in. If they get the right scores on tests, go to the right college, we can still keep our rightful place. Even if their sons and daughters are dullards.

The solution? Got me. Given the current economy's race to the bottom, these middle class mediocrities are dead weight quickly being cut. The middle managers of yesterday are finding the same fate their blue collar brethren have had for years, and it worries them. So the typical American emphasize on self improvement and exceptionalism, making sure they'll be different. These are the rats scrambling up the sides of the ship, only ensuring they'll be the last to drown.

If I was a cynical misanthropic bastard.
posted by zabuni at 12:13 AM on November 12, 2010 [24 favorites]


Hm. Honestly, the kids who were products of intense environments in high school were the ones better prepared for college. The students being short changed by the school system are the ones who have to take remedial classes in college, not the ones who had "too much work" in high school.
posted by deanc at 12:15 AM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Learning to cheat successfully may be the one skill that is most transferable to a graduate's professional career.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:24 AM on November 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


I think the issue that needs to be addressed is quantity of homework vs. quality of homework (and by quality, I mean how the assignment designed to both reinforce what was learned in class and how the student can apply that knowledge). "Intense" educational environments that produce students ready for college and the workplace are not necessarily the ones that assign the most homework, but very often the ones that assign the best homework. Part of this is a cultural problem, as I feel that we put far much stock in busy-ness. Activity is not synonymous with accomplishment.
posted by KingEdRa at 12:46 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Activity is not synonymous with accomplishment.

Exhbit A
posted by quarantine at 12:50 AM on November 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


"obsessed with the illusion of achievement, competition and the pressure to perform. Cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired."
Ditto business, finance, government, work, and many people's lives. Why should education be any different?
posted by Pinback at 12:54 AM on November 12, 2010


@Pinback: Why should education be any different?

I'm gonna sound like a hippie here, but the argument would be that if education were different, we'd be on our way to having "business, finance, government, work, and many people's lives" eventually be different. That may be invalid, but it's implicit in a lot of education arguments, IMO.
posted by quarantine at 12:57 AM on November 12, 2010


"obsessed with the illusion of achievement, competition and the pressure to perform. Cheating has become commonplace"

In a terrible irony, one can observe the same maladies in colleges and universities themselves as they try to claw their way up the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Consider all the shenanigans around boosting "selectivity".
posted by mhum at 1:04 AM on November 12, 2010


Well, yes, that was my point in my own snarky defeatist fashion. Education is this way because we (in the 'civilised' world) want it that way - it fits in with the way our other structures have been formed (accidentally or deliberately) to work.

Society would like people well-educated to the best of their ability, but the system demands groups of interchangeable resources. Demand beats want any day (unfortunately). It's a vicious circle, it needs to be broken, and I think the education system is the place to start working to break it - but it's a hell of an uphill struggle, particularly in places like America where distrust of government actions is almost pathological.
posted by Pinback at 1:11 AM on November 12, 2010


I think international outsourcing in the United States might actually spur such reforms.

Bear with me.

By no means am I saying that other countries cannot generate novel ideas -- far from it -- but if we're talking about @Pinback's "interchangeable resources", it is pretty much impossible that the U.S. with its cost-of-living would be able to undercut people trainable as "interchangeable resources" in third-world economies.

It has always seemed to me that innovation and service industries are two of very few domains in which an expensive country such as the U.S. could hope to compete, because as "demand beats want", then unfettered by legislation to the contrary, manufacturing, technical labor, and so on is going to be cheaper in poorer countries, because workers will be willing to accept (read "able to survive on" if you like) lower wages. Poorer countries have opportunities for innovation along with manufacturing, tech support, and myriad other industries. The U.S. is losing the ability to compete in many of the latter.

(Of course, there would be a sort of entropic settling, and to the extent that communication and transport permit, the world will be flat. But that's probably generations away, at least, and Americans likely will not like the averaged-out wages.)
posted by quarantine at 1:31 AM on November 12, 2010


And that was in the early 80s, going through what was a fairly well esteemed Catholic school.

You have no idea how great every school is in the 2000s, compared to how it was only 50 years ago. I mean, every school. Education for the baby boomers was comparatively crude. The focus was on discipline and conformity first, subject matter second. Teachers were generally knuckleheads, when they weren't outright pederasts. There were a few half-assed pedagogical theories floating around, but they were implemented in a patchy way by teachers who were overwhelmed by the generational tidal wave sweeping through their classrooms. There was little in the way of guidance counselling, even at good schools. Education was random. Maybe you went to college or you didn't. Nobody at your school cared. And teachers up through the early years of high school (at least the schools I attended) beat the crap out of students they didn't like (who probably deserved it). And I don't mean whacked them with a ruler. I mean closed fists and knees to the stomach. Today, schools are so humane and so focused on students and helping them to achieve, that if you fail, you have no one but yourself to blame.
posted by Faze at 4:17 AM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


It seems odd to me that the same group of people can suggest both that those of us in the accountability camp are undermining the dignity and nobility of teachers and that testing means cheating among teachers will be rampant and indiscriminate (because, you know those teachers, they love nothing more than cheating on tests to stab their colleagues in the back...)

If you're privileged enough to have teachers and parents who honestly believe you can go to college, and who push you to get there, education reform just wasn't designed for you. Sorry.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 5:52 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Japan has been at this point for decades, suicides and all. It was all predictable using Japan as the model. In the US it will take a higher toll because we are in decline
posted by shnarg at 8:23 AM on November 12, 2010


I saw this movie and it stressed me all the way out, man! All these people saying how stressed out they were. I was grinding my teeth trying to get to the end of the movie where they talk about all the innovative education ideas that are floating around, and that could help break the stress cycle. But that part of the movie didn't really come! The best they could do was be like "Uh, ... assign less homework?"

ALSO, the title of the movie "Race To Nowhere" made me think that I was going to see a movie about how education is currently designed to prepare kids for jobs that don't really exist. I was hoping that the movie would propose a system of education that is not based on preparing you for other things, but on learning and becoming well-rounded critical thinkers. But that was not what the movie was about. They didn't talk much about what happens to the kids after they graduate.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 8:30 AM on November 12, 2010


My home school advocate friends love this movie. They also love Waiting for Superman.
posted by exhilaration at 9:18 AM on November 12, 2010


How about other countries' education systems?
posted by ethnomethodologist at 12:41 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


« Older An eight-year, extremely large study (p = 1.34 × 1...  |  "Once you have established you... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments