Thanks to Matt Montagne, I learned about the recently released documentary film, “The Race to Nowhere, The Darkside of America’s Achievement Culture.” This three minute trailer on YouTube gives an overview of the film’s primary themes. We need to stop pressuring our kids to achieve at everything simultaneously, focus on students as individuals with unique needs as well as skills, and make drastic changes in the ridiculous amounts of homework assigned to children in our schools– especially at the elementary level where research fails to show a correlation to increased student achievement. Homework amounts at the secondary level are frequently ridiculous as well, however, and unwarranted.

Susan Ohanian’s March 3rd article, “Politics and Parsnips: Obama’s Common Core,” resonates with my own views on educational reform and transformation. The Obama administration is continuing to follow the same flawed path as the Bush administration for “school reform.” We don’t need a centralized, mandated curriculum. We don’t need more standards. We don’t need more high stakes pressure, more high stakes testing, or more homework for kids.

We need to go back to the basics, but these are not just emphasizing reading, writing, and math. The “basics” of a good education is begin with a GOOD TEACHER. We must stop the drive to discredit and devalue teachers and the professional skills we bring to learning inside the classroom.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Kenn!

Scripted curriculum which takes the form of mandated pacing guides, where every teacher in each grade level is expected to be on the same page the same day with all students in a particular grade, is THE ENEMY. The education our children need and deserve is an INDIVIDUALIZED education which meets specific, unique needs, not a factory-model system which treats human beings as widgets to be manipulated on a rigid schedule.

Race to the Top is an effort to coerce our state leaders to buy in even further to the administratrion’s flawed vision for changing schools. I reject it, and I vehemently oppose the continued efforts of our elected as well as appointed leaders to discredit teachers, de-professionalize teaching, send the message that anyone who breathes can successfully teach by simply paying to take a test and getting a certificate, and that more high-pressure accountability will lead to excellence. Our leaders are continuing to destroy our public education system, and it’s high time we changed course.

I hope documentaries like “The Race to Nowhere” can bring more attention to the flawed educational path we’re on in many of our schools and communities, and provide specific ideas for local change agents who are fed up with our continuing lack of leadership on educational issues and want to step forward to make a difference. This film appears to point out (I have not seen it yet, but Matt has) that our “problems in education” are not simply political, they are also CULTURAL. We have toxic, unrealistic cultures of pressure in our schools and communities which need to change. These cultural attitudes and behaviors are OURS as parents, teachers, and community members. We don’t have to “just wait on politicians” to start making these changes. We can and should start NOW.

For more of my recent thoughts along these lines, see my February 17, 2010 post, “Will Race to the Top Hurt Kids and Make Charter School Entrepreneurs Rich?

Hat tip to Gary Stager and Will Richardson for tweeting the link to Susan Ohanian’s article.

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  • Andi Stanfield

    I have to admit, I do not bother to assign much homework, and neither do my fellow teachers at the high school level. Very few students (perhaps 25%) do the assignments, so we refuse to beat our heads against that brick wall. We are finding less and less motivation to do the work, even in class! And, believe me, we are using “rigorous and relevant” lessons. The whole system needs to change, I’m just not sure what the new paradigm will be.

  • James Robson

    I have always believed homework is a waste of time for teachers and students. Kids need time to be kids. They need time to interact with their family and friends as well as pursue their interests outside of school. If a child is not learning enough 6 hours a day 5 days a week then we’ve got it wrong. Something else we have forgotten is that schools should not be the primary educators of our children. Parents should be. The most important lessons of life are not found within the pages of a text book or by searching Google. Society as a whole has to slow down, take stock, focus on what really matters and make a change for our children’s sake. – Thanks for the post. I will be looking out for the film.

  • http://@OklaBrett Brett Dickerson

    Thanks for this post, Wesley. I taught for five years in my suburban district’s top API (Academic Performance Index) rated school, and can attest to the few observations in this trailer. I am eager to see the whole documentary. Now that I have been in our alternative school for almost as long, I am clear that too often I am working with otherwise talented, creative, smart students who are refugees of our current factory model of schooling. I am also clear that the majority of our parents buy into the culture that pressures kids in this way and demands that public schools do the same.

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