Saturday, July 14, 2012

Race to nowhere - the film - by Lily

I’ve heard quite a bit of buzz about the documentary film “Race to Nowhere”. So when I found out that there was a screening at my son’s school, I got my ticket right away.

This film explores why our kids are facing so much academic pressure and how to solve this problem. But I got totally tuned out at the beginning of the film. It starts out complaining the amount of homework is a major source of pressure; kids have so much homework that they don’t have time for anything else, sometimes even sleep. I don’t think this is an issue, at least not in our school district. On the contrary, I think the kids are not getting enough homework especially for math and science. Homework is not supposed to make you smart, its purpose is to make sure you fully understand the new concepts and methods you learn at school and be able to correctly apply them in different situations. I think lack of homework is one of the reasons a lot of kids only remember how to solve certain types of problems within two weeks of learning (the “swallow and spit”), it is one of the reasons that 50% of college freshmen need to take retention courses. I’m glad that even my kids agree with me on this. I can’t imagine that our school district is an exception in terms of homework load, and I found a blog at Washington Post that backed my suspicion with national stats.

But this film did raise several interesting points. It is true that in today’s world our kids feel pressured to excel at every front, be it academics, sports, music, or community service. There are a lot of opportunities, and it is great they want to do them all. But nobody is superman, and they need to be clear why they are doing all the activities. If it’s only for college application, then it could well be “race to nowhere”. This is easily said but actually hard for the kids to follow their hearts. Our school counselors are telling the kids since 9th grade that they need to start building their profiles for college application, they need to have a variety of activities, and they need to choose AP classes to show their academic rigor. And the college admission officers do care about all these issues. What do you expect the kids to do under this kind of environment? One suggestion is to rid of college rankings, there is no best college but only perfect match for your kid’s growth. We as parents should stop ranking the kids based on where they go for college.

Teacher quality and evaluation is another important issue. But it may take a generation to fix. Many Asian countries greatly value education and highly respect the teaching profession. In Singapore top 20% of high school graduates get a free ride through college if they choose to teach afterwards. While here, you have to spend one extra year of no pay training and pass the certification exams which are different from state to state. How can we attract the best people to teacher our next generation? To evaluate our teachers, how do we encourage teaching beyond the standard test, the joy of learning, the curiosity toward nature, the method of analytical thinking, and the integrity and conscience toward one’s ability? I’ve met teacher who complained that her pay raise would be affected because my son failed to improve his test score.  I’ve also met teacher who deducted points from my son’s science test for a spelling error. I don’t know if those teachers were evaluated properly, I surely hope so.

One other issue the film pointed out is that in today’s world one’s success tends to be determined solely by the amount of money one makes. So much media coverage focuses on the instant success stories of the few and the lives of rich people. As a result, some kids only dream about same luck will happen to them without putting in their work; they tend to focus on the money and the presumed “easiness” of earning money while forgetting their own interests and passion. In fact, we need to teach our kids that we are the 99% -- in terms of being struck by luck. All of us need to put in hard work and most of us will still end up with seemingly  "mundane" works. 

1 comment:

  1. Maybe "Race for college application" or "Race for money" is a better name for this documentary film. For most students, they should not learn the AP subjects at all in high schools.