Review: Race to Nowhere

Last month, I visited the C. W. Post campus for a screening of “Race to Nowhere,” a documentary that answers the question “How are we doing?” with regard to our education system. Apparently, not so great.

The film interviews students, parents, educators, and other experts in the field. It examines the pressure on students who spend much of their valuable school time not exploring and questioning and learning but memorizing tons of information to pass standardized exams. It shows the extracurricular activities, clubs, and teams they join to make their college applications stand out from the pack. Most of all, it shows kids who are burning out and parents who have been brainwashed to believe this is the way it should be. One shocking tidbit was the high percentage of students entering their freshman year of college who have to take remedial English and Math classes because they haven’t mastered basic skills during their previous 12+ years of school.

“Race to Nowhere” was a powerful lead-in to a much needed discussion about where we’re headed in the current education system. The discussion that followed the screening on the Post campus was amazing and just one of many to come. Here’s the link to the website on which you can view the trailer and find future screenings in your area:

The website also offers pages of links to the latest coverage of the film and movement. Here are a few to get you started:

The New York Times

The Huffington Post

The Washington Post

Feel free to comment below about your experiences, thoughts, suggestions.

13 comments on “Review: Race to Nowhere

  1. jesswords10 on

    Thanks for the review. I’ll check to see if my library has it. One of my favorite documentaries is “The Business of Being Born” it’s all about home births vs. hospital births, but not in a he said/she said way. We held a viewing on our campus when I ran a student group and had a whole panel of hospital nurses, doctors, midwifes, etc. speak afterwords, and it was really interesting. I think you’d enjoy it.

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      I hope so. I definitely have my ideas about this topic, but I also know that I don’t have enough information to be certain that my ideas are realistic. I’m obviously biased by the performance and needs of my own child. But education can’t be one-size-fits-all, and yet, the school systems are so large, I wonder if they can be anything other than that. I sometimes fantasize about home-schooling. But then my husband’s deer-in-the-headlights look brings me back to reality. (He’s a stay-at-home dad and the homework honcho.)

  2. carldagostino on

    As a retired teacher of 34 years this is an issue that fuels my anger. Specifically, the criticism schools and teachers take as failing schools. No one will point the finger at the kid. If Jeffrey is high all day he does not learn. If Jeffrey is absent 2 or more days a week he does not learn If girls do not come to school two days before their period, during the period and the day after, they do not learn. If we are late every day and miss math we do not pass the graduation exams. Or if we do not return after lunch and miss English we do not pass the state exam. If Sara is pregnant(again) and does not go to school for pregnant girls she gets no education. When James brings no book to class, is asleep because he was playing video till 4 AM, and if Janet is overwhelmed by her violent and dysfunctional home life, they doe not learn. Another problem is that they have everyone on the college track and not all can do that level, or that particular curriculum(advanced math for instance) and they drop out which means they have even less education. But it is the school’s fault and the teacher’s fault. And then there is the absentee parenting thing…..

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      There are many who will cast blame, but that never helps. We need to look at the issues, at the performance of the kids, and whether they are prepared to go out into the world and function. Many organizations complain that their new business recruits are lacking in critical thinking skills and the ability to work as part of a team.

      Sometimes in the pursuit of passing a state test, it seems we teach kids how to answer a certain type of question. Heaven forbid the format of the question changes. Then, they no longer know the answer. To me, that means they don’t really understand the material. They haven’t internalized it. That’s a problem. This memorizing for tests and promptly forgetting the information after the test is not learning. It’s also not fun for many kids and I fear that we are losing them in the process.

      The teachers are just as much the victims of this testing culture. They must move quickly from topic to topic to be sure they cover all the material, while remaining painfully aware that many of their students are not keeping up. I have spoken to several dedicated teachers who were quite upset with how the system works. It also doesn’t give them much room to inject their own brand of creativity into the teaching. That’s a shame. I have fond memories of many of my teachers, which I blogged about here:

      There’s a lot to think about…

  3. Carol on

    Students are expected to master a tremendous amount of material. Perhaps the school day and/or year should be extended. I have been reading about all of the computer applications that students are using to learn. I am sure that many of them are excellent. However, there must also be time for a student to simply sit and reinforce what the application was trying to teach. For me, that is the purpose of homework.

    I have watched parents drag their child to one after-school activity after another. Perhaps that is too much pressure for the child and the parent. There needs to be some balance amongst a child’s education, extracurricular activities and family.

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      I agree with you on the balance part, and therefore I do not agree on the extension of the school day and/or year. 🙂

      A classroom is not the only place that learning takes place. As a child, I spent my summers traveling with my family across the North American continent, camping in a tent, eating food cooked over a fire, and seeing sights that a textbook could never do justice.

      Kids need down time, too, with nothing scheduled, so they can dream and be the creative beings they are at heart. Unfortunately, it seems we’re getting better at casting that creativity out of them like some kind of demon to be feared.


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