May 12

Our Race to Somewhere

Tuesday night at 6pm Chimacum Middle School hosted a screening of the movie Race to Nowhere. We had 92 people from our community, our schools, Sequim, and Port Townsend attend the screening and afterward many stayed behind to discuss the movie’s content.

Speaking for myself, the movie was amazing. At a few points throughout the film I was brought to tears. Recent events in our schools have made this movie very poignant for me on top of the fact that a lot of the learning about education reform that I’ve been doing lately completely resonated with this film. The point of the movie? Our nation’s goal to have another Sputnik Moment is putting too much stress on kids. We are being told to fear that our kids are not able to compete for Science, Math and Engineering jobs. By focusing on academic achievement, one size fits all, reducing kids to numbers using standardized testing, and making those standardized test scores high stakes we are robbing our kids of their childhood. Schools and families, teachers and parents, are so stressed about helping our kids make standard that we are putting too much stress on our kids. Expecting kids to do hours of homework, join clubs, compete in sports, take AP classes, and maintain 4.0 or better GPA’s is not and should be the path for all our children. Maybe not even for any child. I’m not saying no part of those things, just not all of them for every child. And that’s the message we’re sending our kids. That they have to fit that mold to be successful and to be a “good” student. As my wife said in a comment after the movie, “what about the artist?” What about the athlete? What about the musician? What about the thespian? What about the historian? What about the free thinker? What about the kid who can’t sit still and listen to an adult speak?

The movie calls for us to remember what our children are and are not developmentally ready for. Some kids learn to read by 2nd grade. And that’s okay. Not all kids are ready to read by kindergarten and that is okay. Studies show that homework before high school doesn’t help kids improve. There is more and more research that shows that homework doesn’t do all the things we think it does. What we are really doing by having kids do homework is keeping kids from playing. Playing is an important part of childhood! Play is how kids grow and develop. If homework needs to be done in middle school, it shouldn’t be much and even high school there shouldn’t be more than an hour of homework a night. Kindergarten through 5th grade? No homework at all. And you know what, I agree. Homework is a battle with my 2nd grade daughter. She hates it and was beginning to dislike math, which she used to love! What struck me is when one teacher in the movie asked what gives him the right to tell families what they should do with their time. Who am I to tell families what to do when they are together in the evening? Families need to have family time not fight over homework or never see your kids because they are too busy time!

Testing reading, writing, math and science forces some schools to place less emphasis on social studies, art, drama, music, shop, home ec, and physical ed. When there isn’t enough money those subjects that don’t get tested are the first to go. Bubbling in an answer on a multiple choice test doesn’t tell you what a student knows and preparing kids to do that saps the creativity and love of learning out of the kids. How can our 4.0+ students who take AP classes need remediation when they enter college?? Because preparing them for tests doesn’t prepare them to think critically or deeply. Because putting more pressure on them only makes them learn how to cheat. This is what’s happening in America’s schools. Think about it. All that we do by preparing our kids to do well on tests is to prepare them to take tests. How many careers and jobs require you to be proficient at test taking? Do you want a doctor who passed all his or her classes by being a good test taker and good at memorizing? Or do you want a doctor who can problem solve and diagnose illnesses that aren’t in a textbook?

The movie gives us much to think about. I’ll try to get some more ideas that I got from the movie in future blogs because it’s got me thinking and re-thinking how I’ve done and how I do things in my classes. And what a great journey for me! I’m not just stuck in my ways doing things to my students because that’s the way they were done to me. And I certainly don’t want to keep doing the same things, albeit slightly differently, and expecting different results. Isn’t that the definition of insanity. 🙂

Here are some resources I’ve been reading that have helped me wrestle with some of the themes of the movie:
An older blog I wrote about Standardized Tests
Myths of Standardized Tests
When Will the Testing Bubble Burst?
‘Failing Schools’ Fallacy
Fix the School Not the Child
My Recent Readings (not so recent anymore but still very valid)
How to Motivate Students
Do Grades Help or Hinder Learning (this is where I started my latest journey)
Blogs as Electronic Portfolios
Chimacum’s End the Race to Nowhere Online Discussion Group
My Class Facebook Page

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this. Even if you didn’t attend the movie please share your thoughts, concerns, ideas, reactions by leaving a comment. We can be the change our kids need. I’ll leave you with a video that has been another source of inspiration for during these tough times.

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  1. Perfect timing on this!
    I had a parent today contact me about setting up a screening for our school. I forwarded her the link to this post. Here were my impressions on the movie:
    Paul Bogush recently posted..The Finland Phenomenon

    • Patti Smith on May 13, 2011 at 6:36 am

    We have to do something to change the downward spiral in education. I work with kids with disabilities and high stakes testing is a disastor for them. They already know learning is harder for them (for a variety of reasons), so why do we put them through testing we know they have a slim chance of meeting standard with? Testing, measuring, preparing for testing, is taking away from true learning time. We have to look the developmental stages our kids go through and get back to what will work. Learning should be fun, exciting, and filled with wonder….not stress, loss of family time, new ways to cheat, etc.

  2. Luckily I found your post dear. I also watched this movie and can not able to keep my tears on some points. Heaven. Really heaven!

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