Maureen P. Tillman Reviews ‘Race to Nowhere’
“A call to mobilize families, educators and policymakers to help disprove the notion that the educational system is ‘one-size-fits-all.’”
“Raises important questions that educators and parents must confront … a provocative, conversation starter of a film.”
Race to Nowhere has been voted a “must-see” film by educators, parents and the media, alike. A film made by educators and parents, it’s received a thumbs-up from luminaries in American education such as Diane Ravitch, Alfie Kohn and Daniel Pink, and features educators from the Stanford University School of Education such as Deborah Stipek and Denise Pope.
Here we feature insights and comments on the film by guest author, Maureen Price Tillman, a clinical social worker who counsels adolescents, college students and their parents about the college experience. Maureen has shared her expertise with SmartBean readers in the past in articles such as Avoiding March Madness, College with Confidence and The Watchful Eyes — Junior and Senior High School Parents.
I attended a screening of the documentary “Race to Nowhere” at Ridge High School [in Basking Ridge, NJ] on February 9. It was an excellent, candid film about the complex issues facing our educational system and society as they relate to achievement and competition and the impact they have on students and their family life.
The film opens with the music lyrics: “No one knows me at all” which set the stage for what many children and teens described throughout, as well as their concerned parents.
Overscheduling, both academically and with extracurricular activities, has far-reaching ramifications. It can rob children of their childhood. There are other students who react by disengaging, which results in its own set of issues and symptoms. As the movie vividly showed, underneath a beautiful exterior, depression, anxiety, stress and general unhappiness abounds. Suicide is the most tragic outcome.
What parents do have control over is being the safeguard of their children’s physical and mental health. They can learn to parent in a style that will encourage the crucial life skills that will foster healthy, confident, and productive development. The movie also urges parents to get involved in reducing the pressures of the educational system on children.
The film emphasized how getting into the “right college” drives this achievement pressure. College is an important goal and what parents and their teens need to realize is that getting into college is just the beginning of a whole new chapter. Colleges offer amazing opportunities and students’ coping abilities will determine how much they benefit and enjoy the experience. This is the teen’s first true independent transition where they will no longer have parents monitoring how they sleep, eat, follow through on academics, party, and cope. If children and teens don’t develop these life skills along the way, it won’t happen magically in college. I think most parents would be astonished to learn how many students return home, because of emotional challenges, or suffer at college. As described in the film, those who are unable to cope at college carry deep feelings of shame and failure which is another painful outcome of an obviously imperfect system.
There are many lessons to be learned from this compelling film and I hope conversations will continue among families and with the school system.
For those who missed it, “Race to Nowhere” will be shown in many neighboring communities over the next month.
Maureen P. Tillman, L.C.S.W.
Adult and adolescent psychotherapy