The film Race to Nowhere attempts to help parents better understand the growing pressures our children are under as they navigate k-12 education (with the goal to be ready to attend college). I had the opportunity a year ago to attend a screening of this film and participate in a panel discussion. I am fortunate to be able to have another opportunity this weekend at the Illinois PTA state convention to talk about this issue. Certainly much of what the film addresses (homework, standardized testing pressure, extracurriculars) has been in the news more often this last year as states are beginning to implement recently adopted Common Core State Standards and as ESEA reauthorizing has stalled (and as a result states have asked for, and recently been granted, relief from NCLB guidelines/goals) many states are reforming how they address P-12 education (part of which, for some, was commitments made during the recent Race to the top funding cycle).
But it's not just what's happening in education today that is creating over-stressed students. Outside of school issues are impacting in school experiences. More children today are considered homeless or are living in poverty. More children today are relying on the school meals program for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. College affordability is further away than ever before. These outside factors mean that students are acutely aware that without a stellar academic AND extracurricular "resume" there may not be a scholarship to get into even the local four year college. These same students (and their parents) are also aware that they are now "competing" for these scholarships with not just what they once believed to be their peer group, but with all of their peers at not only their school, but other schools in their community as well.
And this pressure to be successful starts when we, as adults, think we are doing the right thing by sitting our baby in front of the television and watching an educational video or teaching our children sign language, or any language for that matter. When we meet with other parents on the playground, or at Kindermusic, or Gymboree, we compare, contrast, and compete with one another. First tooth? First word? First anything...and we keep doing it as our children grow up. First in class? First string in orchestra? First at anything? Everything?
So is it any wonder that our children feel that they are going to be the "first" to fail us?
And that's the part of the point of Race to Nowhere. That we need to create a better sense of balance in our family so that our children don't keeping "running just as fast as they can" towards the next after school extracurricular activity, or the next club, or the next sport. Certainly we want to encourage our children's athletic or academic interests and skills, but not to the point where they don't even have a moment to breath or actually enjoy. We spend so much time rushing from one activity to the next that we eat meals in our cars and our kids do homework in their beds with a flashlight. And we all feel disconnected and dissatisfied and disgruntled with one another. And then we feel that we need to fix that situation by finding the next "thing" that will reconnect us...and that quest for the perfect fix causes more stress...and we also find ourselves "running just as fast as we can" towards...well, nowhere.
Many schools are trying to stem this tide by helping students better navigate their lives. Implementing new "social and emotional learning" practices, whether embedded in the curriculum or championed by educators such as those who work at Kimochi's, will help students and families navigate these stress factors better. Some schools are implementing yoga and quiet time moments into their school day. Recess and exercise (also great stress relievers) are being championed by parents as a way to help students as well. Many families advocate for less assessment tests (or no assessment tests at all) as a way to help schools help students. Groups such as ASCD advocate for a "whole child" approach to education and associations such as the PTA help schools and parents work together to achieve student success.
|Future artist featured in the Smithsonian? Perhaps, but she sets the pace, she gets to choose.|
Ultimately though, we, as the responsible adults, need to help our children, our schools, our society to acknowledge that we all need to better "focus on the journey, not the destination" (Greg Anderson) and that "success is not a place at which one arrives but rather the spirit with which one undertakes and continues the journey" (Alex Noble). Working together we can stop this "race" and help our children know that no matter where their particular path may lead them, we know that it is a somewhere destination and we just want to be along to enjoy the ride.
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail
Ralph Waldo Emerson