“Race to Nowhere,” an 85-minute personal documentary that delves into the negatives of the American education system was shown at Eastern Michigan University’s Porter Hall on Saturday.
Director Vicki Abeles an Oakland, Calif., mother of three schoolchildren, said, “The main purpose of the film is to give students and educators a voice in the conversation on education.”
Abeles got the idea for her film when she noticed her children were struggling from the burden of excessive homework, which was taking a toll on their health.
“Homework has become more about quantity rather than quality,” Abeles said. “What’s more, parents expect their kids to come back from school with homework. But, the question is: ‘Are they really learning anything or just becoming these machines that memorize and throw back what’s required on tests?’ I think it’s more important that homework be developmentally appropriate.”
The film questions issues regarding homework and workload and the consequences these issues are having on children in grades K-12. It highlights the seriousness of the effects to the health of these children and how most of their problems today are stress-induced disorders.
“It’s scary that 95 percent of the girls in school experience gastrointestinal issues because they internalize school stress, where as boys act out,”Abeles said. “I was worried about my daughter. Looking at her I noticed that she’d lost the love to learn.”
Abeles draws out experiences and viewpoints from professionals, parents and children about the American education system. She also shared the story of her family.
“When I decided to make a movie for this cause, the first 15 minutes of production did not feature my family, as we’re just private people,” she said. “After speaking with a couple of people in the film industry, I was told that if I didn’t show my family in the documentary it wouldn’t make as strong of an impact as I wanted it to have.”
A parent in the audience said, “It’s amazing how young children are being prepped for college. They go to school, take classes in music, play sports and then come home and do hours of homework and then wake up the next morning to do the same thing all over again.”
Another parent said, “It’s not enough to be good at just one thing like just sports or just academics or just art. Today for a kid to get into college, they need to be good at everything. And yet what they learn at high school doesn’t equip them to deal with college.”
Abeles said educators even face pressure from various school policies and state education departments to teach a certain way.
“The focus has become doing great on tests, not on what the students have learned,” she said. “If it was some sort of pesticide that was harming our children’s health we’d put a stop to it right away. Then why aren’t we doing something about stress induced by school?”
The film, which was shot over three years, is being prescreened in schools and communities all over the country and has managed to get Oprah Winfrey’s attention. The movie is featured on Winfrey’s Web site and will be going out nationwide showcasing these issues. It also has been screened at film festivals.
Abeles’ priority is to get the word out.
“This film is a call to action,” she said. “I don’t want it to be a film that people watch and think about just for a moment and then forget. We are looking to get people involvedin this movement. We want the state to sit up and take notice.”
Carla Palffy, student counselor at a local school, said: “Race to Nowhere has been shot well. It tackles the, ‘If I don’t do it all, then I’m going to miss the boat’ idea that most students tend to share. Students need to know that they don’t have to open all doors but rather find the right door for them.”
More information on the film is at: www.racetonowhere.com.