Race To Nowhere
Feb 14 2011

This past weekend, I saw the documentary called Race To Nowhere.  It was screened by the school my kids go to called Magellan International School.  It was a fascinating documentary about the pressures put on kids in the public school system and in school in general.  They interviewed many parents and teens about the amount of homework, studying, extra curricular activities, etc. that they all felt compelled to do in order to be able to get into a “good” college.  It depicted the stress levels of these kids, and highlighted one really smart kid who committed suicide because of the fear of doing badly in school.

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Honestly, it was crazy the amount of homework these kids had to do.  I don’t remember having 2 to 3 hours of homework every night of the week when I was in middle or high school!  I also don’t remember requiring a parent to help me with my homework.  I agree with their premise that less homework is better and kids should spend their time learning in school and after school they should have downtime.  I don’t think you should eliminate homework all together as some experts suggested in the movie, but I think expecting elementary school kids to have homework every night is excessive.  They need time to be kids and have unstructured play with their friends or siblings.

I like the homework schedule at my kid’s school.  They usually get homework on Friday and it’s not due until the following Thursday so you can help them learn to pace working on their homework during the week.  Apparently, the country who has the highest amount of homework is Turkey and they perform the worst in tests when compared to Finland which has the least amount of homework and their kids out perform the kids in most of the rest of the world.  But then again, the social structure in Finland is different than most places.  They have liberal parenting leave, flexible work schedules, etc.

Since my kids aren’t yet in middle or high school, I can’t really say from first hand experience how stressed out those kids are these days.  However, if they are taking lessons from their overworked, stressed out parents who are trying to do everything without much of a family support system, then really we should look at the entire social system in the US.  Many of us are so used to working all the time, that we sometimes miss the forest for the trees.

The movie was a good reminder to pay attention to our kids and their signals about what’s going on in their life.  We all still need to live in the existing academic infrastructure so we need to make sure our kids know how to navigate that system but at the same time make efforts to begin changing the system by looking at different ways of educating our kids like they do at the Magellan International School.

Happy Valentine’s Day! <3

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5 Comments on “Race To Nowhere”

  1. 1 Jeffrey said at 8:08 AM on February 15th, 2011:

    School systems that fail to teach, assign homework…period.

  2. 2 Dana Minney said at 8:55 PM on February 15th, 2011:

    Great post! I agree Aruni…the school system puts alot of pressure on kids to perform, rather than focusing on developing curiosity or a love of learning…and the parents can be even worse!

    When i requested my boys repeat kindergarten because they were socially, academically and physically behind the curve, many other parents thought i was nuts, and asked why i would do that. In fact the principal refused my request and insisted they be promoted!…saying they would just need to do extra homework to keep up.

    Luckily she was fired and the new principal wholeheartedly agreed with my request. Now, the boys are thriving…they love learning,are self-motivated and not under pressure to perform at a level out of their reach. Thank goodness for little miracles!

  3. 3 Aruni said at 9:42 PM on February 15th, 2011:

    @Jeffrey – I agree that most teaching/learning should be during school and not force to students to cram at home.

    @Dana – Glad you stood your ground with your boys! Reducing their performance anxiety even a little bit will help them and you as their mom as well as society in the long run.

  4. 4 Nicole Johnson said at 8:36 AM on February 16th, 2011:

    Very interesting! I do not have school-age children, yet, but I am very worried just how we will fit anymore anything into our day and the kids actually have time to play (especially together to foster the sibling relationship, since they are separated during the day)! As it is, I feel like it is a rush to get to bed on time, and we don’t have homework, yet. My son starts Kindergarten in the Fall, so wish me luck! Thank you for sharing this!

  5. 5 Aruni said at 9:54 AM on February 18th, 2011:

    @Nicole – My daughter, who is in kindergarten, has some homework but she thinks it’s fun. It’s mostly easy stuff like coloring and writing her letters. She usually finishes everything in 15 minutes although she has a week to do it. :-)