Tag Archives: Race to the Top

Race to Nowhere is changing lives, one film at a time… We all want to get from point A to point B, and often the journey itself is enough to transform us. But what happens when racing becomes an end in itself?

As written on the movie official website, Director Vicki Abeles turns the personal political, igniting a national conversation in her new documentary about the pressures faced by American schoolchildren and their teachers in a system and culture obsessed with the illusion of achievement, competition and the pressure to perform. Featuring the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids, Race to Nowhere points to the silent epidemic in our schools: cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired.

Race to Nowhere is a call to mobilize families, educators, and policy makers to challenge current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens.

Featured in the film:
– Dr. Madeline Levine, Clinical Psychologist and author of the best-seller, The Price of Privilege
– Dr. Wendy Mogel, Clinical Psychologist and author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee
– Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, Adolescent Medicine Specialist, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
– Dr. Deborah Stipek, Dean of the School of Education at Stanford University
– Dr. Denise Pope, Co-Founder, Challenge Success, Stanford University
– Sara Bennett, Founder, Stop Homework

Director Vicki Abeles wrote a letter, addressed to potential audience, telling the story behind Race to Nowhere:

Three years ago my only knowledge of film came from buying tickets at the box office and going to see a movie with my kids.

Race to Nowhere was inspired by a series of wake-up calls that made me look closely at the relentless pressure to perform that children face today.

I saw the strain in my children as they navigated days filled with school, homework, tutoring and extracurricular activities. But it wasn’t until the crisis of my 12-year-old daughter being diagnosed with a stress induced illness that I was determined to do something.

After months of long evenings battling homework assignments, studying for tests and panic attacks in the middle of the night, we found her doubled over in pain, and rushed her to the emergency room. Her cheerful façade and determination to keep up had masked her symptoms to us, to her friends and to her teachers.

I started to make some changes in my home, but the pressures on my children and family felt more systemic and beyond my control. In thinking about my own childhood, it seemed that education hadn’t changed much in the past 30 years, but today’s system is driven by a high-stakes, high-pressure culture.

In trying to understand what was driving those pressures, I began speaking to experts. I was stunned to learn of the soaring rates of youth depression, suicide, cheating, and “dropping out” occurring in all types of communities.

I spoke with students and their families and teachers across the country, and realized how widespread the problems were, crossing economic and geographic lines — and how powerless they felt to address these issues in the face of current education policies focused on high stakes tests and competitive college admissions.

This problem was affecting millions of kids and yet it wasn’t being talked about.

I wanted to do something to raise awareness on a large scale, and to bring communities together to galvanize change. Films had always been a powerful force in my life, so I decided the best way to raise awareness on a large scale was to make a film that clearly captured these stories and issues. I was determined to give voice to those on the front lines of education – students and teachers.

So I picked up a camera and began to assemble a team of film professionals.

After interviewing students, parents and teachers, I met with top education and child development experts at Stanford University and other leading institutions. I interviewed my own daughter. And I went on camera myself to provide context.

One of the high school pupils I talked to, Natan, gave us the film’s title when he said students “get caught up in a race to nowhere.”

Several months into the film’s development, without any warning signs, a 13-year-old girl in our community committed suicide after getting a poor grade on a math test, adding urgency to the need for change.

Childhood has become indentured to test scores, performance and competition. We face an epidemic of unhealthy, disengaged, unprepared kids trying to manage as best they can.

We cannot keep silent any longer. If I don’t speak out and share these stories, who will? And if not now, when?

We cannot wait for large institutions or the government to make the changes our kids need today. Education should not be driven by political and corporate interests. There’s too much evidence that it isn’t working for any of our kids. Layers of change are needed, starting from the ground up.

Once you’ve seen the film, please take a look at the resources on our website as a starting place for you to make changes in your home, classroom and community.

Let’s join forces to change the system and our culture. Together we must safeguard the health of our children and ensure that they all receive an education that allows them to reach their full potential.

Thank you for watching, and acting on what you see. Let’s work together to improve the lives and education of our next generation.

Vicki H. Abeles