Race to Nowhere: Helping Kids Step off the Academic Treadmill

A fellow music education advocate recommended the film Race to Nowhere. I must say that I haven’t had the opportunity to see the film, but the trailer echoes many of the frustrations with the direction of education that we’ve discussed here previously. The film is being screened in selected markets and will be released this fall.

The film website also has links, resources, and tools to get behind this message. It’s also important to note that testimonials indicated that the movie leaves you with a sense of hope rather than just taking the easy route of bashing education and leaving the viewer frustrated.

While we generally discuss music education in this forum, many of the themes addressed in this documentary are questions we raise in that debate including:

  • Personalized approach to students’ needs
  • The importance of a well-rounded school experience (educated vs. informed students)
  • The pressure to perform on standardized tests (schools, students, and teachers)
  • Developing the ability to think rather than memorize
  • Redefining success

As I’ve stated previously here in a letter to the Aspen’s Institute on No Child Left Behind, “Our ability to meet performance metrics is meaningless if those metrics are not a true measure of the needs of our students.” Any thoughts from those who may have seen this film would be appreciated.

Startling statistics
A letter from the Director Vicki Abeles

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7 thoughts on “Race to Nowhere: Helping Kids Step off the Academic Treadmill”

  1. How do we fix this? I see students at my school who could have easily appeared on this trailer. Overscheduled, exhausted, pushed to be superheroes in everything they do. When do the Kindergarten entrance exams begin? What? Your resume says you spent the first six months of life nursing! Why weren’t you more productive?

  2. Thomas:

    The website has information on hosting a screening in advance of the full release. I believe that they are hoping that this will increase the visibility of these issues and spark a debate that will lead to action.

    BTW: Thanks for the retweets and kind remarks regarding the blog!

  3. Another aspect I see missing when the focus is on individual outcomes is a lack of development of relationships with others. This is a component that the performing arts adds. You can’t perform together successfully unless you build some level of trust and connection with your colleagues.

  4. Good point, Hiram. Technology has contributed to that decline in relationship skills. Ironic that the acceleration of social media in our culture is depleting our social skills.

    As a blogger/tweeter, I understand that technology is a great tool. It just makes it that much more critical that we have other activities to facilitate human interaction (like music) to give our kids greater balance.

  5. Craig, I feel all of your points concerning questions in music education are vaild. I’m curious to your thoughts on technology integration in the music classroom. I try to incorporate technology through authentic means in my general music classes. I also feel that to a certain extent, the use of technology does hurt the students socials skills. Do you feel this has to do with the fact that the technology that is being used is causing this social deficit in our students, or maybe the means, or lack there of, by the educator is to blame for the declined social skills?

  6. Adam:

    Let me preface my remarks by saying that I’m not a psychologist or a music educator, only someone who believes strongly in the power of music education and in encouraging children to find their unique talents by focusing on education as a journey of exploration. That’s why the arts are so critical – they act as a catalyst in that journey of self-discovery.

    Technology is a tool. Excessive use of technology and subsequent isolation, I believe, is an indication of deeper emotional issues. Often we concentrate on limiting exposure of our kids to potentially destructive and addictive devices rather than addressing their overall well-being, thereby addressing the underlying causes that drive destructive behavior.

    That being said, you wouldn’t want a child in front of the PSP, computer, or iPod 16 hours a day any more than you’d want someone to spend that much time in a casino or a bar. My son spends a fair amount of time on electronic game systems, and I’m not concerned, provided there’s a mix of reading, physical activity, and socialization in the mix. As one educator told me, recess is as important as any other subject (though a fair percentage of schools have nixed that as well to make time for test prep.).

    If you’re using technology to expose students to the possibilities that technology bring to music and the creative process, it’s likely that your contribution to their well-being far exceeds any concerns regarding socialization skills.

  7. One thing that has to be acknowledged: composing computer programs have made composing/transposing a heck of a lot easier and practical than working by hand on such things.

    I’ve seen comments made here that school music programs among other things, don’t optimize opportunities for creativity, such as composition. I think that is a valid point, though the way I’ve seen school boards behave, such activities would probably be cut as much as any other performing music program.

    The mantra given in such situations is that school is about the “three R’s” and anything else is a frill. Sort of like, because we don’t have enough money, we’re going to eliminate vitamins D, E, & K, but we’ll keep the others.

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