"Race to Nowhere": Where do we begin?
I recently had a chance to attend a screening of Race to Nowhere at COSI (Center of Science and Industry) in Columbus, OH, and the experience was, as I described on Twitter, uncomfortably inspiring. Whereas watching Waiting for Superman immediately put me (and many others!) on the defensive, I felt like this documentary found a happy medium between causing alarm, pointing out some of the problems, and then offering up the reassurance that A) there is hope, B) there are stakeholders in education who truly have the best interests of our students at heart, and C) there is no one person or group in particular at blame. Davis Guggenheim's documentary scolded public school teachers and parents who refused to endanger their children's well-being in order to get into a "good" school; Vicki Abeles' documentary held up a mirror to society itself and asked the honest question that we all need to ask ourselves: how did we let things get this bad?
The problem is, the documentary is light on solutions. It doesn’t mean that it failed viewers: to put together a film that would describe the problems with our education system, identify the causes, and then develop a workable list of solutions might take a fearless activist years to complete, and it would never satisfy anyone. But documentaries are not miracle drugs. Watching Food Inc. didn’t immediately kill my cravings for cheaply processed food from McDonald’s or Taco Bell. Street Fight showed me just how strong and admirable the politi-robot Cory Booker is, but even I can’t shake the thought that the education reform he and his colleagues are pursuing in Newark, NJ is misguided and potentially dangerous. These films did cause my brain to start churning out thoughts and ideas, though, and that’s really the purpose of a documentary: to spark conversation.
Fortunately, Race to Nowhere achieved that. It was the most beautiful experience to walk out of the theater at COSI and listen to parents, students, teachers, and administrators animatedly discussing how they related to the movie. There were cheers, there were grumbles, and there was fire in the eyes of concerned men and women itching for a chance to do something about the future of education. I don’t know if I agreed with everyone in the auditorium (several parents expressed their concern that, without homework, students will never learn personal responsibility) but I knew that we all saw a need for some kind of change.
There are so many topics of interest that can be pulled out of this movie, and I hope to share my thoughts about them in the next few weeks. In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to visit the film’s website and look for a screening near you. If there isn’t one, find an organization and/or partner with like-minded individuals to bring one to your area soon. You owe it to yourself, as an educator, parent, or student, to begin thinking about how we can create an environment that is capable of sending talented, successful young men and women out into the world without stealing their childhoods away.