Race To Nowhere…what now?

Last week I had a chance to see the film “Race to Nowhere” and to participate in a dialogue with high school students in Burlington, Vermont.  While I think the film represented a particularly affluent, suburban phenomenon (with an attempt to identify similar issues in urban areas with less economic resources), it raised some interesting issues and questions.

I was happy to see the film in Burlington, where I feel like I have already been part of an ongoing conversation about our values and goals for kids in our community.   The issues most resonant with me are examining how and why kids are being “pushed” to “achieve” and how much of our children’s energy goes into being “producers” and “performers.”   The benefits of providing kids with unstructured time, meaningful opportunities to connect to people and projects they care about, time to be creative and explore the natural world are part of the Vermont conversation. It was interesting to hear our high school students reflect that they did not feel like “too much homework” was a pressing issue, but that the relevance of what they are learning and the quality of relationships with teachers is of great importance.  They also clearly expressed the sense that the “pressure” comes from what it takes to get into a good college.

Many of the students I had a chance to speak with also were both motivated and trapped by our societies’ culture around sports.  Students spoke of wanting more free time, but also the need to play and practice one sport year round, six days a week, if you (and your school) are going to be competitive and match your “rivals.”

One thing that I walked away with was the importance of reflecting on these issues as a community.  If we are going to create a healthy environment for our kids to learn and grow,we have to really get clear about what that looks like and pursue it together.

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