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Call Off the Race

by on Sep.15, 2010, under Environmental influences, Expectations, Learning, Parenting, School

For months I’ve waited for the chance to see Race to Nowhere, an incredible documentary film. The trailer was circulated around the web ages ago and caught my eye. I tell you now, run, don’t walk, to see it. ( That’s how important it is.

When the lights came on in the theater after the Saturday matinee, I stood up and said to the other 20 people in the pathetically empty theater, “Am I the only one who is crying?” Maybe it was the ending piece about teen suicide, or maybe the clear message just bore a hole in my heart: What are we doing to our kids?

It seems appropriate to write about the topic, as school engines are revving all over the country. Children are ramping up: Pristine notebooks, perfect pencils with virgin erasers, and daily planners filling up. On your mark, get set…And then what happens? More and more classes and homework and lessons and practices and pressure and stress.

Is growing up really a race?

Somewhere along the line, we are blowing it. As the movie powerfully and poignantly depicts, our children are the losers. In an effort to put them in a winning position, we are actually handicapping them. Their health, well being, happiness are in jeopardy. Recent research has looked at the effects of stress on growing children, on their developing minds. And it is looking at the pace of life that may contribute to the rise in adolescent psychiatric and health problems. What has happened to education? And what has become of childhood?

Race to Nowhere brings the issues into sharp focus. The film questions classroom demands, homework, insane schedules, kids’ overflowing plates, sleep deprivation, peer competition, and parental expectations…to name just a few of the issues plaguing kids today. If nothing else, after taking your breath away, it will cause you to think and evaluate what is going on in your child’s school, in his life, and what goes on under your own roof. You may not think so, but there are choices.

Does your child exist in a home/school/ peer culture that demands participation in all of it…basketball, soccer, baseball, tennis, underwater basket weaving, internships, clubs, community service, charity? Does he have time to process what he has learned, real down time? Is homework more important than family time, more important than sleep?

Our schools and our culture are promoting the misguided notion that childhood is a race. And our children are running so hard and so fast that they are not only missing the experience, but they are putting themselves at risk. When they get to the end, if not on the road, they collapse. And what for? What is actually at that finish line? Is it a race to nowhere?

As I have said over and over, it is no accident that when parents are pregnant, they are “expecting.” Are your expectations for your children realistic for them? Are your expectations based on your child or on you? Is your child living his dreams or yours? Whose race is it?

Education is a process, and childhood is a journey. When they are in a constant state of pressure and stress there is no time for process, and the journey is missed. Children need standing time, just like the potato after it has baked in the microwave.

As the school year begins, take the time to consider what messages you are giving your child:

• Is “What do you have for homework?” the way you greet your child after school?
• How many extracurricular activities do you allow, even encourage?
• Does your child have a bedtime? Is finishing homework more important than
sticking to the bedtime?
• Do meals happen in the car, on the go?

After seeing Race to Nowhere you just might rethink your answers to these questions.

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5 Comments for this entry

  • Lee Rose Emery

    Dear Betsy,

    Thank you for this! I saw the RACE TO NOWHERE too and blogged about it on LACityMom over the weekend. It was so moving is such a cautionary tale that we all need to take to heart. I applaud the film’s mission in sparking discussion and making us all stop and re-think our priorities for our children.


  • Anita

    I am so glad you finally go to see this film!! The start of the school year has certainly brought all those feelings back up for me. It is such an important film I think it should be required viewing along with birthing classes!! With only 2 years left til kindergarten I am already nervous/anxious about Lexi starting school, I have been checking out books from their suggested reading list at the library so I am armed for advocacy! I will protect my baby’s childhood!

  • Lisa

    I loved this blog. I just finished my middle school back to school night. I was excited (about the opportunities) and overwhelmed at the emphasis on kids’ extracurricular activities. I heard, “if your kid doesn’t do this, they will be out of luck in applying to high school – let alone college.” My mother (their grandmother) said to my kids before school started – “Enjoy being little. Little is such a short time. Play, relax, have fun. The pressure to do it all happens in your adulthood…we are adults for a very,very long time (20-100) and young for a “blink.” Don’t waste it.” I loved that as it reminded me that my kids being allowed to be kids is my priority.

  • Modesto Duchene

    The design for your web site is a bit off in iCab. Nevertheless I like your website. I may have to install a “normal” browser just to enjoy it. 🙂

  • Laura

    Dear Betsy,

    I cried too–both times that I saw this documentary this year. Kids must be allowed guilt-free down time to process what they’ve learned in school or what’s the point? We now set a timer for our son’s 6th grade homework and don’t allow him to sit over it longer than the school says homework should take. The research shows very little correlation between homework and academic achievement (especially elementary (none)and middle school (maybe one hour), so what will it take for educators and administrators to wake up? We need an organized movement to start to facilitate change. Race to Nowhere is a start. Thank you for your blog post.

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