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Student Stress, Competition & the Educational "Race to Nowhere"

By Tom Ashbrook

Test-heavy, tough love education is “in” – it’s urgent and necessary for America to stay competitive, we’re told.

Now, a new documentary with a different narrative is gaining momentum.

The film “Race to Nowhere” says America’s schools have become test-obsessed, high-stakes pressure cookers. They’re churning out ill-prepared adults short on creativity and ethics, and stripping humanity from kids.

Vicki Abeles, the filmmaker, is a mother of three whose own 12-year-old daughter had problems with school-related stress. Her documentary is making its way across the country in grassroots fashion, airing at PTA meetings, in school gyms and community centers.

“I think today’s system isn’t generating kids who are independent thinkers and ready to contribute to the world,” Abeles says. “So I think we have to ask ourselves whether we are wanting to create a generation of test-takers and resume-builders, or do we want problem-solvers and life-long learners and healthy young adults.”

Of course, there are larger policy concerns complicating the issue. The pressure is on right now for American education and American students. New numbers out last week showed American 15-year-olds well down in the world pack in math, reading, and science, while Chinese students, in particular, ranked very high in many categories.

Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford University School of Education, says the debate should not be framed as “‘push’ or ‘not push’ – it’s a lot more nuanced than that.” We should keep these global comparisons in perspective, she says, and students in places such as Shanghai are having some of the same problems with stress and sleep-deprivation.

Credit: Racetonowhere.com

“There are going to be other countries that are training their kids – and ‘training’ I think is the key word there – to really perform well on those kind of standardized tests,” Pope says. “What I think that test[ing] does not measure is creativity and the ability to solve complex problems. And what we need to think about is, ‘What do we want as a country as the outcome for our high school graduates and for our college graduates?’”

Yong Zhao, professor at Michigan State University’s College of Education and author of Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization, says there’s a lot of data showing that standardized test scores do not predict a nation’s success.

“Many of China’s college graduates cannot find a job,” says Zhao, director of Michigan State’s US-China Center for Research on Educational Excellence. “At the same time international firms in China are actually complaining they can’t find qualified talent–so there’s some irony there … Going after test scores is the wrong indicator to look at for the quality of education.”

Guests in this show:

Vicki Abeles, director of the new education documentary “Race to Nowhere.” She’s an attorney, a mother of three, and first-time filmmaker. She made the film ‘Race to Nowhere’ after her own 12-year-old daughter was treated for school-induced stress.

Denise Pope, senior lecturer at the Stanford University School of Education. She’s author of Doing School: How we are creating a generation of stressed out, materialistic, and mis-educated students. She’s also co-founder of Challenge Success, a national research project to reduce unhealthy pressure on youth

Yong Zhao, professor at the College of Education at Michigan State University and author of Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization. He’s executive Director of the US-China Center for Research on Educational Excellence.

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  • Tamara (Decatur, IN)

    The film looks intriguing. Our educational system, private or public, is a mess. Parents are more concerned with their kids being on the right sports team, getting into college is a race to see who can do the most stuff, critical thinking skills are non-existant. Students make up spread sheets of what extracurricular activities they need to get scholarships; cheating is rampant. In our area, the student who was granted a coveted full ride scholarship to the school of her choice admitted that she’d only really ever read one book. The point of it all is not to learn anything or grow, but to see how much you can say you DID. It’s like we’ve become a nation stricken with group ADHD.

  • http://www.keithfenimore.com keith fenimore

    Love the show!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I am 39. A comedy writer and producer (currently work for Howard Stern), live in Brooklyn New York, have two dogs, what else, oh, yeah, I’m attempting to go from obscurity to “The Most Recognized Man In America” by creating a media and social networking tornado.

    My experiment was launched last week with a feature story in the Philadelphia Inquirer:


    And I have more press coming out in the Philadelphia Intelligencer, The Greenpoint Gazette and the NY Post.

    Will you book me as a guest?
    Keith Fenimore

  • cory

    It isn’t a race to nowhere, it is a progression towards maximum productivity and efficiency. I’m 40 and know lots of people my age who went to college for a well rounded classical education. I imagine to have that luxury now you’d have to have a trust fund or something. I think many of us believed we were entering an enlightened era where everyone would attend college and go on to meaningful or even fun careers. Then we realized that the rest of the world had caught up to us and said “not so fast”. No matter what line of work you are in, someone from the third world is willing to work harder at it than you for less than half your pay. Their educational systems support that and ours will eventually will as we accept our new destiny… As an ant in a colony almost 20 times larger than we first believed, fighting with the others to the death over that spilled bit of Coca-Cola.

    Leftfield, Wisconsin

  • Sam E. (Ann Arbor, MI)

    I’ll be listening that said I don’t doubt that there are schools that overwork and under stimulate students that said I’m 24 and this isn’t the experience that I’ve had or that I think most of my peers would have described even in graduate school.

  • Pancake Rankin, in McAdenville, NC

    Tamara, boy are you ever right about the cheating! Cheating comes right from the financial top. It is our ideal. It is in every home. It is what is often required to survive. The guy at the top absconds with millions and then complains if the guy at the bottom lies a little to social services to heat and eat.

    cory, E.O. Wilson could tell you there are many kinds of ants. They stay in their habitats and don’t mess with one another. “Ant-stompers” love to see them fight. They cook up ant wars. they destroy ant hills with remote control toys. They drop fire from the sky. Hey, they ought to record it and put it on Youtube!

    cory, it is unnatural for a girl in India to be doing my taxes. It all comes from the way the corporate oligarchy prefers to structure economies to their advantage. Imagine a global minimum wage and global socialized health care. Somehow, they prefer not having those things.

  • Ivan

    I live in Dominican Republic. This issue you depict here is not just an issue of developed countries, but also happens in small countries like mine. The pressure for kids to perform at the same level of their peers in rich countries just to have a chance of succeeding has become a significant problem. I have a bright 10 yr old that is stressed and hates school just because teachers put a lot of pressure on him. He has gone from being a straight A’s student to C’s and D’s. As parents, we have tried to motivate him to love learning again, but the stress is much bigger. What can parents do with this?

  • Derrick Muwina (Boston, MA)

    I have a six yr old daughter and I want her to do her best, her very best in life. I get the message that there are schools that overwork their young and there are schools that under-stimulate their students. I came from a family that expected me to do well but did not push me enough. Luckily I loved leaning and ended up at world-class universities, not so many are that lucky. I think what we need is a healthy balance between hard work and too much play.

  • http://teawithjam.blogspot.com Amy

    My husband and I saw Race to Nowhere earlier this fall in Madison, Wis. Watching the kids in this film was like watching our daughter. She took advanced classes, attended the local technical college for computing classes, was on the honor roll, and scored well on all those standardized tests the schools are so focused on to prove their students are college-ready.

    Last year, as a sophomore, she was getting about three hours of sleep at night. She couldn’t think on so little sleep and fell increasingly further behind. She barely ate because she felt sluggish when she did, which only worsened matters. She couldn’t handle the stress to keep up what she perceived as a need to be a perfect student. She thought if she didn’t do everything, and do it all just right, she would be a “failure at life.”

    By spring, she gave up. We are homeschooling this year.

    Monona, Wis.

  • Peter Smyth

    I don’t think many high school teachers would describe kids as driven or overworked. Far too many kids are disengaged. I gather that the disengagement often holds in college. A large part of the blame is the reform and testing movement. For kids who do work hard, they are engaged in curriculum geared to the tests. Others are just turned off. If a student is not in an “honors” track, forget it. And even in most of those courses, it is the same stuff, just more.
    When I got kids in AP Stats and AP Calculus, the issue was not lack of background knowledge or even lack of work ethic. They had lost the desire or ability to passionately engage in deep or intense thinking. To engage in and solve a problem they had not seen before was beyond their experience.

  • Sue Stone

    I have a sophomore in a nationally renowned public high school and a freshman in college who went through the same system. Both are very bright, and were completely engaged and loved school and learning up until about 8th grade when all the standardized testing, teaching to the test and pressure to build a resume for college begins.

    Music to this mother’s ears came this fall when my son in college reported: “The biggest difference between high school and college, Mom, is my level of interest in what I’m being asked to study and learn. College is WAY more interesting!” Thank goodness his love of learning wasn’t totally snuffed out by high school and could be reignited.

    My biggest goal with my current high schooler is to keep her love of learning alive, and if that means fewer AP or honors level classes, so be it.

  • ThresherK

    Information please: I’d like to know if there’s a “conversion ratio” for SATs from hyper-prepared kids v. decades ago when just going in and taking the test was the norm. What percentage of HSers take big money SAT prep stuff, historically speaking, and are colleges considering students differently because of it now?

    I’m also looking forward to discussing those endless, and faultable, “best colleges” rankings. The gaming that goes on to increase “prestige” in USN&WR numbers would show the term-paper sales industry up as a bunch of pikers.

  • http://ibelieveinbutter.wordpress.com Soli

    I think our education system is failing further and further. When the benchmark is test scores and how much homework can be done, and not actual thinking, we’ve lost. I have a niece in kindergarten, and no joke, she has a workbook page a day to do. When I was in kindergarten, homework was UNKNOWN. It wasn’t something shoved at us to prove to some outside force that we were “learning.”

    Will there be any periods of the show to discuss the things kids are not regularly taught now, like art and music, and the cuts to physical education?

    Soli (rhymes with Julie), New Haven, CT

  • Jim from Kirby, VT

    Read Thomas Friedman’s OP ED piece in NY Times: a school kid is sending/receiving 27,000 text messages/month and not reading educational matters -
    School Models have failed
    Teachers have failed
    Parents have failed
    Students have failed

    16 of top 32 Rhodes Scholars are not Americans! Our universities are fine. Our educational preparation is awful.

    Read about Bill and Melinda Gates program for Excellent Teachers – bottom line: best teachers keep all students actively involved all the time in class

  • http://challenginglachesis.blogspot.com Dave Eger

    “Microcosm of the larger system” is the key phrase there.

    I wish that more educators had an understanding of Chaos Theory.

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    As a mother and a teacher I resent it.One of my kids bought into that game, achieve achieve achieve and has the health of a person who paid for it, stressed out, little joy…my youngest son does not buy into it and won’t…outcast of sorts, not part of the IN group of overachievers, over the top in everything…he is MUCH happier as a human being. He is easier to hang out with..I think my daughter has grown happier away at university because she dropped the game for one semester..she has laid down her perfect label and told me she is “enjoying herself” for once, which I believe. In the art room I try to have every person enjoy their experience…it’s quite a work load but fun! It is not about ability, nor product…it’s about the doing. Also, after my daughter who was an all star sport athelete and over the top grade achiever, walked in the door one day…stressed out…when my husband asked our youngest son why he wasn’t interested in sports he said “look at —-, she never smiles”..between high school sports and classes, he was right. Her joy was sucked right out of her, plantation style. And more! If the schools go to all year, more time at school school you can count me out.

  • Shane Salt Lake City UT

    I do believe that there is a culture in our school systems that places too much emphasis on tests and achievment. However, in the state of Utah there There is a new initiative that has created emersion programs for our children to learn French, Mandarin, Spanish and German. They are taught Math and Science in the language that they have been assigned it starts in 1st Grade and continues through junior high. I believe this is a great change in our society and will allow our kids to be more well rounded in this globalized world!

  • SteveV

    Back half a century ago, when I was a teenager, there were numerous choices for a career. College? Trades? Jobs were everywhere, regardless of your educational level. Now those jobs are gone and many people are being left behind. The pressure for everyone to participate in higher education excludes many who simply cannot function at that level.

  • Sam E. (Ann Arbor, MI)

    There is some wisdom in this discussion but that said I think overstressed gradeschoolers is probably an issue in upper and middle class suburbs. I don’t see making inner-city schools a little more like these schools as a necessarily terrible idea.

  • S Lowry

    This is a result of the industrialization of education. This is the same problem that corporations have; business school graduates have learned to measure in lieu of knowledge. As a result, we have companies, and now schools, that are being managed based on a collection of numbers rather than based on knowledge of the business and product.

    It is interesting that we are slipping in science now that the schools have been forced to accommodate non-science such as creationism in the guise of science.

    The result is know by Forest Gump … Stupid is as stupid does.

    Steve in Nashville

  • Ben (Evansville, IN)

    Interesting film, but the premise of this discussion seems misguided. There’s not a contradiction between the experience of the highly motivated children Abeles has interviewed and the declining performance Tom pointed to at the top of the hour. We all know that the quality of public education varies greatly from place to place. Abeles is right: the kids who are “stressed out” by the pressure to become valedictorian deserve a break. But in my opinion, most of those children will figure things out on their own. It’s the other 99% of the population we should be concerned with.

  • Dena Grrenman

    Failing schools? Failing teachers? Failing system? MORE is not better! Must the blame be placed on the educators? How about failing families, failing society? Schools have become the ultimate scapegoats, and are asked to do SO MUCH MORE than educate.

    As a former high school English teacher and parent of two, I can confidently say that schools and teachers are serving kids in so many ways–they act as doctor, therapist, nutritionist, social worker, etc., etc.! Stop the maddness! Let’s help families become “high performing” and leave schools to the educating…NO NEED for more hours and more work–just less of the other baggage coming through the schoolroom door.

    Middlebury, VT

  • Ann, Barrington, Rhode Island

    In a much earlier time (high school graduation: 1965), we, too, were PRESSURED to perform, so that the U.S.A. could COMPETE WITH THE RUSSIANS. I am ONLY NOW (age 63), coming into my own intellectually. It took me SO MANY YEARS TO CATCH UP WITH MY OWN DEVELOPMENT after the onslaught of PRE-MATURE OVERWORK that my public school expected of us. There was emotional pressure, but there was ALSO the pressure to get All THOSE PROJECTS COMPLETED! It was IMPOSSIBLE unless you were brilliant — in a certain way. I think the system SUCKS THE BRILLIANCE OUT OF KIDS who learn in different ways, let’s say the kids who are great in sculpture, mechanics, fiction writing, photography.

    In those days, the kids who would work in their father’s businesses or in unionized factories would survive.

    I KNEW what I wanted to do back then: I wanted to take mechanical drawing, but my guidance counselors would not let me “because I was a girl”. I kept asking, so I was threatened with “expulsion”. I wanted to take art classes, but they wouldn’t let me because I was “college bound”. I thought I was just INTERESTED in these areas. I didn’t know that I was ALSO a VISUAL LEARNER.

    I got into college & flunked out. I went to a visual arts trade school for one year & from there to art college WHERE I finally began to learn in ways that were the basis for my entire INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT, not JUST my visual learning.

    We also had to be beautiful back then, but there were fewer girls who were, so it was important, but seemed less achievable.

    I could NEVER GET ALL MY HOMEWORK DONE. The same was true for my daughter, who is now in her late twenties. I’m sure it’s true for kids today. Too many teachers do not understand LEARNING. They focus on TEACHING, but have no concept about LEARNING!!!

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    A lot of stress is physiological. The environmental stressors (toxins) that make kids more likely allergic than 30 years ago, just for example, are also creating physiological stresses.
    I tend to think kids are wired to “go for it,” and that schools, sometimes trying to keep everyone on the same page, tend to shortcircuit that energy.
    And energy that is disrupted for hours at a time tends to create problems.

  • LP

    Oh please. Students whine about being so stressed an overwhelmed, yet they spend countless hours on Facebook, texting, playing video games, watching tv etc. It’s a battle to keep them from texting and sneaking onto Facebook DURING CLASS! Some discipline and concentration might help these stressed-out kids to accomplish the things they need to.

    What makes it worse is that if a student is struggling the parents seek to blame everyone else EXCEPT the student!

    -LP from Boston

  • Aaron

    Of course kids are stressed. I was stressed. Our education system is in dire need of a jump start. There will be stress. Good and bad. Give them ways to cope instead of sacrificing quality. I am disgusted with the knowledge of the average college freshman. It’s as if the freshman year of college is rehashing sophmore year high school ideas. Sad. We need to get with it or get left behind.

  • marcia-Vermont

    I love the NPR audience. However, I’m a teacher and I have a different population to teach. My students come from rural poverty and their stress comes from everywhere BUT school.

    I see kids with little memory, no motivation, passive acceptance to anything and absolutely no creative problem solving at all. the one thing they share with the higher educated kids being described is the fact that the testing is a colossal waste of time, energy and resources.

    BTW, they do not care one bit about grades and test scores. Just trying to make it to adulthood is their goal right now.

  • catherine

    I think many parents contribute to this incredibly high-pressured and competitive atmosphere in schools.

  • j.d. smith

    Oh please stop the whining… the U.S. is falling behind in science ,math and other subjects as well. Other countries are pushing their children MUCH harder and they all still thrive. I can recall having 3-4 hours of homework a night when in middle and High school. This was back in the sixties. Let’s all get real now.

  • http://cyberfumes.blogspot.com Dave Eger

    But what are we pushing them to do? Being pushed into doing things that aren’t what interests you can be very stressful. Perhaps we should focus on providing resources and opportunities rather than regulations and guidelines.

  • Aaron

    YES. That is all I see in a college classroom. Facebook, fantasy football, etc. Kids whine. When you push people push back. NEVER COULD IT BE THE INDIVIDUAL’S FAULT. I think we need some parenting classes.

    Cheating and depression have always been a part of high school life just not talked about before. This isn’t the fifties.

  • Mike W.

    The low performance numbers bear the reality. U.S. kids aren’t achieving as much as other students in other countries. I agree our teachers shouldn’t be teaching kids how to pass a test, but should be teaching practical applications and uses (then again, how much does the average person use calculus, but you get my point). But with the limited amount of time our kids have in schools, what else are the short-changed teachers to do? If we were to extend the days beyond 180, they’d have more time to get beyond the test-prep mentality and provide more in-class instruction. This should reduce the amount of time students spend on homework since the majority of learning will be done in class.

    Thinking our students have unreasonable stress is quite absurd. Talk about stress…many countries have exams at the end of high school. You get a bad grade, you don’t go on to higher education. In the U.S. if you pay enough, you get go anywhere (Bush/Yale is a sound example).

  • http://csteachlearn.com Matt Brenner

    I taught for 6 years at Phillips Exeter Academy (Exeter, NH), and then at Sidwell Friends School (Washington, DC). I also hold an Ed.M. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. These are very high pressure schools. I also have two children (10 and 3), and my son attended Sidwell while I taught there.

    It is absolutely clear to me that the overwhelming majority of pressure that students feel comes from their parents. If you listeners are troubled by the stress they see in their children, they should go to the nearest mirror, take a long look, and think about the messages they share with their children.

    There are plenty of problems with our education system, but none are greater than the problems kids bring with them to school. This is true across all socioeconomic strata.

    -Matt Brenner
    Virginia Beach

  • Jim

    This discussion is really about well to do towns in the US. We are not talking about inner school and towns that cannot afford to provide high quality education. we are going nowhere not because we cannot provide them with the tools. we have a choice. i rather have this choice when i provide an education to my children.

  • K. Donovan

    What no parent seems to want to accept, is that when the schools are working, then they’re weeding out some students who–no matter how hard the parents might want it–just aren’t able to be in that top 10% or higher.

    I taught for several years–many students who may do very well on standardized tests or other measures of ability just can’t compete on an emotional or functional level. Not every kid will go to Harvard, no matter what the parents dreams are. Some kids are going to do really well on standardized tests and still do fine at a state school.

    This is not the fault of teachers. It’s the fault of parents, just as much as it is when other parents aren’t involved at all. A child who is comfortable (sleeping, not depressed, not overly grade-obsessed) in a standard education, should be able to have that and not be shoved by over zealous parents to over achieve so that the parents can feel better about themselves.

    Some kids are just not going to be at the top of the class, and if there is a system to weed out those who are not at the top, then the system is working, even if it’s not working for zealot parents.

  • Mark, Cambridge MA

    Comparisons across international borders are dangerous. There are fifty separate education systems in this country just at the state level, and below that every town has it’s own districts. We have some schools that are super competitive, some that are simply terrible.

    That said, the dangerous trend of teaching the test has counterparts overseas. Germany and Japan thirty years ago were examples of why rote learning and high pressure at a young age were great for producing competent button pushers, but not so good for making real creative performers. Not to mention great at producing 10 year old suicides.

  • Mac Dates

    Compete? If China and India want the reigns, I say let ‘em have ‘em. I work a full and part time job and I’m a full time student. And the only reason I do it is to support my wife and 2 kids within the constraints of our society. And the irony is that I can’t afford the time to spend with them. My daughter is in first grade and enjoys it, which is what education should be: enjoyable. I envy those cultures whose family values trump career acheivements. I would gladly have a less tech savvy world in exchange for time with my children and an afternoon siesta.

  • Sara, Virginia Beach

    The idea of learning in a developmentally appropriate way has evaporated. At the same time, “shiny” technology tasks have overtaken thinking and writing. Instead of writing essays, kids are encouraged to present their material via powerpoint. This enables grade inflation, which is now firmly entrenched from elementary school through college. Is it any wonder that by the time the kids get to college (those who are able to vault the many hurdles of the admission process) they plunge into binge drinking?

  • Paul (NYC)

    It might be helpful if the guests clarified that in low performing schools, students would benefit from higher expectations, more work, and more social pressure to succeed, and in some “high achieving” public and private schools, students are pushed much too hard and in the wrong way.

    So it’s two problems. People who are saying we need more pressure, not less, are talking about the lower performing schools, which is most schools.

  • Sam Wilson

    “It’s a battle to keep them from texting and sneaking onto Facebook DURING CLASS! ”

    Really.. thats a news for me.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Is it parents or teachers who are making kids think grades are the whole issue in life?
    Schools can always use readjustment to fortify the link between the real world children know they need to prepare to compete in, the link between that and the particular activities. In college, I believe it was known 50 years ago that the happiest students were in actively engaged majors, doing practice-teaching, theatre majors enacting what they wrote, or directing it, and science majors participating with their instructors in their projects.
    This could be extrapolated to high school. Keep the effort linked to possible real-world success.

  • Annie Middleton

    “If human vices such as greed and envy are systematically cultivated, the inevitable result is nothing less than the collapse of intelligence.” E.F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful, 1973

    Nashville Public Radio

  • Danielle Anner

    I’m from Amherst, NY near Buffalo. I am in one of the better school districts in the area, but we are very nervous about our 2 year old’s future. We believe that academics are very important, but that a true education should include the ability to get along with others, play and the visual and musical arts. We are truly worried that the emphasis on grades is getting out of hand and cant lead to a good outcome. We are hoping we can afford a Waldorf education, but it almost seems ridiculous that we need to pay even more to expose our daughter to a joyful, artful education.

  • Ann Walsh

    Our family lives in Dorchester, MA and my two girls attend a Boston Public School, Lee Academy Pilot, that focuses on social-emotional development and the whole child. Now our school is on the district’s closures list because our MCAS scores were not as high as those of the traditional school that shares our building and they want to merge our kids into their program. Families choose this school (400 kids on the waiting list for a public school!) because it is about more than the tests, but the people in charge need to understand that. If the school closes, we’ll put our kids in private school, where students don’t have to take the MCAS, but have very high graduation and college attendance rates.

  • Mark S.

    Is this really a problem with the educational system, or more the fault of parents who are often applying this pressure, and failing to teach children how to deal with these pressures in a healthy way? Where are these kids getting this message that they must achieve at all costs or else they are a failure? In my experience, it comes from the parents.

  • gretchen (needham, ma)

    we have two daughters enrolled in a local montessori school in lexington, ma, specifically for this reason. Thank godness our school goes through 8th grade, and our two very different children are allowed to excel and learn in a nurturing, appropriately challenging educational environment where they are learning to love their world and to love learning, NOT how to take a standardized test. They are as skilled in math and science as their peers, but they are fully engaged and love going to school.

  • Jemimah

    Devon Marvin didn’t have “internal pressure.” Kids learn that from their parents, teachers and society, in general. She internalized THAT pressure. Poor little girl!
    And all the talk about a “race…” What I’d like to know is why does no one seem to realize that there is no end to this race–no finish line. What is the hurry? This doesn’t just apply to children, it applies to all of us.
    If parents are stressed and depressed and can’t figure out how to deal with life, how can they help their children? This is a HUUUUUUGE problem, which people love to wring their hands about, but no one seems to have the courage to actually step off the merry-go-round. If people are doing it, I don’t see it, but I’m happy to hear that that may be starting to happen.

  • Nick B.

    Stressed out children? Really? That is insane. What happened to developing and building on children’s natural curiosity, complementing scientific learning with banging on pots and pans, dancing to the music and playing dodgeball?

  • Julia

    I live in Gloucester, MA.
    I remember being told from a very young age that if I didn’t get As in grade school and go to a good college, I’d have no chance of being a happy, successful adult. If the idea is that doing these things means you can get a fancy job, then to me what this implies is that money equals happiness…and we all know how untrue that is.
    I wasn’t able to go to college right after high school for medical reasons, but I’m 26 now and I’ve decided that college is not for me. I believe in self education. Unless you have a specific career goal, college is a waste of time and money. I have so many friends who have degrees and now work in retail stores. I’m so glad I didn’t get myself into thousands of dollars of debt for something I can get for free at my local library.

  • Liz

    One thing I’m not hearing from any of the parents is an acknowledgment of their role in their child’s education: if you choose to move to Lexington, for instance, you are signing on for a certain type of school. You can choose to live somewhere else, where the education system is more progressive, and you can also help your children learn how to deal with the stress; what they can ignore and what they can’t; and most importantly, that you are not loving them based on their academic achievement as measured in test scores.

  • bruce

    Pressure and education starts at home. I have a 11th grade daughter at LaSalle Academy (Catholic high school) here in Providence. She has 3 AP classes and the others are honors courses. She also runs cross-country.

    When she came home with a 56 on her 1st grade in an AP class, I asked what happened. She told me she did not understand what was expected and adjusted her efforts. It was not the end of the world, just get back in there and keep trying.

    I get after my kids to think critically of the world. I like to think it helps them, but I guess time will tell….

  • Susan

    In the mid-80s I had decided to keep my children home. The idea appealed to me, but I was worried about their “keeping up.” When I expressed my concern about my son not being interested in reading yet to a more seasoned “homeschooling” mom, she asked me how old he was. When I said “four” she laughed and said “Let him play!!!” Then me, still worried, asked “until how old?” to which she replied “oh, at LEAST until he’s 12!”

    I took her advice and my kids played through their childhoods and learned as their interests took them. Thus we avoided “Home School Burnout,” which happens to be the title of a well-known book by Ray Moore.

    They are both adults now and seem to be doing fine. Anything missed by not attending school through most of their growing-up years either didn’t matter or was easily gotten hold of when they needed or wanted it.

  • Tommy Anderson

    This is a video I made about my experience in high school.


  • http://shulmandesign.net Alan Shulman

    As a friend of mine once said, to paraphrase: “If you want to clerk for a Supreme Cort Justice, get into Harvard Law School and edit the Law Review. If you want to be a successful attorney, there are scores of good law schools that will educate you satisfactorily.”

    I think the same advice would apply to engineers, architects, doctors, teachers and so on. Entry to these schools does not require turning oneself inside out, to become some kind of trained seal.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    It does seem some way immoral to indoctrinate children to try to “do better” than everyone else, to see everything in terms of “I am better,” “I am perfect.” It derails everything religion tries to teach about people achieving more when they work TOGETHER, using collaborative skills. AND NEVER NEVER SHOW OFF.

  • Neil Boyer

    What’s missing in this is (A)the acknowledgement that you are talking about the very best schools and attributing to the school system in general the problems which (some) students have dealing with the rigors thereof, and (B) the acknowledgement that some youngsters sail through these same schools and have a good time while getting the education their potential deserves. The scale needs to be as extensive as possible to allow for the full development of the potential of the very best of these students.

  • carol spence

    give me a break. You don’t think it is the Parents who put pressure on the schools to put their kids in the AP and advanced classes? Move to the city that has the best schools? want their kids to get into the best college????

  • Margaret

    Excellent program.

    A re-imagined school environment for young people should include room for the whole community to take part, older people especially. Having a multigenerational environment at the schools (e.g., a cafeteria that serves anyone from the community not just students). The presence of the whole community can be very reassuring and supportive. With some training, older folks can be in the classroom at all levels.

    Let’s try!

    Lexington MA

  • Frank Tolentino

    I don’t buy it. I have seen too many Asians from countries such as Thailand, Vietnam who committed to help their families and took on the pressure and succeeded.

    I am talking about boat people who let a war torn country who came to the U.S. and surpassed the U.S. students.

    It really looks as if the kids are playing victim and should reconsider their career choices.

    Today they work for the government and in the corporate America and are very successful for themselves and their families.

  • http://www.democraticeducation.org Scott Nine

    I’ve been tracking the key words I hear Denise and Vicki using. Engagement, relevance, value, creativity, ethics, inquiry-based learning, comprehensive assessment, challenging, research-based, and connected to real life and real problems.

    We do need an accountability movement. We are currently accountable to a model and paradigm that does not serve our youth, our educators, or businesses.

    It is a great, if unsettling moment, because so many people think traditional standardized school isn’t working. The challenge is figuring out how to move forward.

    What are Vicki and Denise’s ideas about how we have a better conversation and begin to take real steps towards the kind of learning environments they are describing.

    How can we be accountable to these new ideas?

  • Jennifer Klein

    Bedford, MA

    If critical thinking skills are where are kids are falling behind, what kinds of things can we do to teach them critical thinking skills over the summers?

  • Elizabeth

    I have two teenage children, one in college AFTER a nervous breakdown in high school because she was out sick for two weeks and got behind on her work. OUr other daughter is still in high school, and is already frantic about grades. The pressure does not come from me or my husband. We are both college professors at an elite institution, and have seen too many of our students break down. The pressure comes from peers whose parents are pressuring them, but mostly FROM THE COLLEGES, who have raised the bar for admission to a ridiculous level. In the meantime, our students are filling the counseling services to the breaking point.

  • http://www.stlawu.edu/gallery Cathy Tedford

    Plain and simple, all of this boils down to an increasingly globalized society’s unending obsession with money. Take money out of the equation, and education becomes an entirely different endeavor.

    Colton, NY (North Country Public Radio)

  • Deb Sabin

    Most of what I am thinking has been stated. Lat year, I taught at a very high performing Boston suburban high school and was dismayed to see the extent that students defined education as a series of high stakes assessments. On the other hand, during a unit on Thoreau’s Walden, one anxious honors junior decided to turn off all ‘technology’ for one weekend as part of his study of Thoreau. He reported that the homework that normally took 4 hours, took him 2 hours. As teachers, we need to really consider the approach we take to material – less ‘this will be on the AP’ . At the same time, we need to understand that part of the time pressure does come from all the technologies introduced in kids’ lives in the past 10 – 15 years that compete for their time.

  • Gary Constantine

    To put it bluntly, there is no solution to this problem. We have reached a paradoxical point in society where the law of diminishing returns applies. We’re in a global market, where kids in the US have to now compete against societies that are completely driven by 12 months a year educational programs, where kids have been raised in families with nearly a sole focus on education and constant study. Coversely, in the US, kids have been raised the past couple generations with much greater luxuries and choices, with TOO many choices all jockeying for various attention, and distractions. The truth is not everyone even with the greatest test scores today are going to be able to “make it” in the world ahead. To just achieve middle class in the coming two decades will undoubtedly take 2-3x of work that it used to take just 1-2 generations ago. This is the paradox kids now face, twice the advancements, but 3x the work to play a part of it in the future. Until the world decides to reverse a set of value systems of how we exist as civilizations, with such a focus on capitalism and consumption, competition rises exponentially for what dollars remain out there to be earned. This situation that we’re now in is THE reason why my wife and I decided NOT to have kids today, as we live here in the US, the concept of what a “”childhood” means or will mean is all but evaporating now. My wife and I just cannot imagine the existence kids must face today in the world, and whats ahead, and what its going to take to earn somewhat of a living here in the US. Good luck to all!

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Carol, some parents don’t know any OTHER way to give their children a boost than to get them into AP classes and top-flight schools.
    People who find out that the important learning is really conducted long after school years, long after pi-r-squared is a distant memory (or not), those people need to remind the teachers that in school, we learn to learn. More importantly, we learn to LOVE to learn.

  • Aj Ylizaliturri

    These fast forward pressured kids are not the real problem, it is the economic divide. it almost makes me sick to hear all the things have the opportunity to do. In low income High Schools, kids walk through metal detectors and pray they do not get shot walking to and from class. programs like art and music are not even offered, basic math and reading skills are sub par. these children are not just starving for the chance to learn, often coming to school affords them the only real meal of the day. Fix that and America will put itself back in the worldwide education game.

  • Steve Minehart

    The problem with our educational system lies our value system – middle school and high school students are spending way too much time on sports, drama, and other extracurricular activities at the expense of basic math, history, science and reading comprehension skills.

    Our politicians are lawyers, actors and celebrities – China is led by engineers – if something doesn’t change we will have no chance to compete in the future economies.

  • Fort Gwinn

    Comments from a mechanical engineering professor at a small private institution:

    This is a very important conversation, in which I see two issues that have not been touched on as yet:

    1. Many incoming freshmen have been given an education that is a mile wide and an inch deep. It is not unusual to have a student with AP Calculus credit that has no understanding of algebra and trigonometry. As an engineering professor, I would prefer students to have a depth in basic skills coupled with a love for problem solving.

    2. Hellicopter parents have drained the problem solving ability out of our children. When faced with a difficult problem that presents a road block, a child often goes straight to the parent to find an answer or at the least a direction. We need more independent thinkers and problem solvers.

    -Fort Gwinn

  • Jodie

    As a third grade teacher and a current grad student at SUNY Albany, I see there is an opposition between higher education philosophies and elementary classroom practices. We are taught in college to individualize and differentiate instruction, to get to know our students as individuals, find their strengths and their weaknesses and create lessons that meet every students needs. In theory this is what all teachers want, however the school day doesn’t allow for this individualized instruction all the time. There is not enough time in the school day to meet the needs of the student as an individual as well as administer multiple assessments, and prepare for standardized tests.

    Delhi NY

  • http://letsgetready.org Evie Copeland, Somerville, MA

    I am a senior at Tufts and direct a branch of the non-profit Let’s Get Ready, which provides a free SAT and college prep program for underserved students. It’s been very discouraging to see that this system of pressure and competition in education, only works to enhance the achievement gap in the US. If a student comes from a family that cannont afford a pricey standardized test tutor and is unfamiliar with the college application process he/she is immediately put at a disadvantage.

  • Elizabeth

    p.s. I’m from Connecticut.

  • John in SC

    So far I haven’t heard anyone ask “What is Finnland doing right that we can do too?” Are we so isolated and so “special” that we can’t learn from others?

    Or is it simply a question of not wanting to spend the money to do it right?

    Reminds me of a comment by Winston Churchill: “You can depend on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”


  • Sara

    Thank you for this program. It would be great to get links about educational programs that are working the way your speaker would like the system to work.

    How does our suicide, depression, general mental illness prevalence compare with that of other countries.

    Seems like a cultural problem through out the world with an interpretation of capitalism and competition taken to extremes.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    OMG, if education is supposed to launch offspring into that top 2 percent, forget-about-it. IMHO it is downright immoral to be in that top percent. Sorry about that. I think the ultimate goal is to have a skill and be a solid link in the web that is life.
    Being a solid link is the big issue. The world is SO complex.

  • Dan

    There seems to be a fundamental discrepancy in the comments made by most parents who are complaining about the current situation. On the one hand they are saying that we in the U.S. are falling behind other countries. On the other hand they want less structure in the way children are taught and instead focus on teaching what is generalized as “real world problem solving.” In most highly rated Asian and European countries there’s a lot more structure to the child day and year in school. You can’t teach problem solving if you haven’t provided kids with the basic foundations of what constitutes an education: math, science, literature, art, sports, etc. It’s not the structured educational system that creates the pressure. It’s the messages coming from parents, politicians, CEOs and the media regurgitating these messages that create pressure. Kids should be made to feel that this structured approach is normal.

  • Tobi

    Thanks for this conversation. I am 26 and felt this pressure in high school. I got very good grades but felt that grades were emphasized over actual learning. Sadly this attitude that I absorbed carried over into college and I spent more time trying to match my work perfectly to what the teacher or professor wanted rather than spending time improving my own mind.

    I was very good at playing the game of school. I also got the message that if you weren’t good at school that you would not be successful in life. I was very good at school and yet this does not necessarily transfer into success in life. When you get out of school there is no system telling you what to do anymore. I have felt lost sometimes now trying to figure out how to be “successful” in my totally unstructured real world life after being used to a system that rewarded me for playing the game well. I was a good student but good grades do not equal job skills.

    There is a large disconnect between education and life afterwords. We need to prepare students for life after school, not simply to succeed in school. We also need to value forms of education other than college. We still need people in the trades, yet for some reason, I got the message that going into trades work or not going to college meant you would be a failure.


  • Wendy

    As a late 30-something reporting in, I can say for certain that the students who were the top test takers and honor role members in my high school did not necessarily become high income earning professionals or happy people! Test success in high school does not equate to high achievement or even happiness as an adult in life. It’s not a one to one correlation.

  • Susan

    Our kids can’t handle the rigors of the academics because they are dead after doing after school sports and activities. They are trying to be “well rounded” so they can get into a “top” school. Many students only have enough time for studies, growing up, and sleep, and the after-school stuff takes them down, as fun as those activities may be.

    In France, parents and kids are rendered crazy by having to pass the BAC in order to continue to university and have an equivalent “HS diploma” so to speak, for life. Admission to their universities is based on test scores. They don’t have school sports teams.

    Also, high-achieving parents don’t have to say a word: the pressure to succeed is implied. Just as your guest is labeled “a former Wall Street lawyer, U Berkeley” her daughter gets where the bar is set for her.

    Susan, retired private school teacher

  • Joe

    “Part” of the blame goes to colleges and companies. Business schools, law schools, medical schools all want soldiers. Companies and Wall St. want “the greatest” profits, not just good” profits. Ask them why their philosophy works and why they won’t take only the best kids. Huge endowments and record bonuses don’t come from a few superstar graduates.

    Why kids MUST take AP classes, why my kid has to take a bunch of electives they don’t care about because the colleges won’t even look at them if they don’t. Why my kid has to get a great job because the college tuitions are too inflated and they can’t ever repay, etc…. These colleges set the bar and kids do their best, despite the stress, to reach it. As long as colleges continue to raise it, this situation is inevitable.

    If you say, this is the outcome of global competition then let ‘survival of the fittest’ just take its course. The best and non-stressed will survive, the others won’t. This is terrible…but unavoidable. America has to go through this pain in order to get back up to global speed and then get the balanced life back. Then maybe that’ll teach us to be complacent.

  • Muriel

    Wanting to succeed and achieve will not make the students unhealthy necessarily. I have 3 children, 2 at Brookline High School, MA and one 8th grader. They love learning difficult material and challenging themselves. Taking AP classes requires an amazing amount of work and you have to enjoy that. We have to remember that students need the tools and foundations to solve the problems of the world. True they should learn to work in teams but without the foundation they will not be creative. And the way to get the foundations is by doing solid, challenging work.
    We should not forget either that what students used to do in 2-3 hours before the internet culture took over will now take 4 to 6 hours with all the distraction (Facebook,music, UTube videos, Wikepedia, and so on). My kids sometimes ask me to take their labtops because they know they are not efficient.
    The race for college though I would agree is pretty sick. Some kids are groomed from early on to have the sport, the art, the music, the community service, the rewards, in brief, an amazing resume. As a result they might not choose activities out of interest and choice but out of calculation for future college application and that is sad. Parents should encourage kids to choose activities they are interested in so that they can develop passions.
    I do not believe in a transformative education system that would be project based, across disciplines, centered around group work. We have done that, it is usually very inefficient, there is a lot of wasted time, and not necessarily a lot of learning because the foundations ar absent.

  • Mieko

    (Burlington, VT)

    I understand the pressures these students underwent. Part of it is self-imposed and influenced by our peers and parents because we have misaligned idea of what success means. We get so caught up about wanting to go to an Ivy League school, and believe me it is overblown that attending an Ivy leads to success. Part of it I blame on a generation of parents who coddle and loom over their kids shoulders, which distracts students from learning.

    As a former teacher, I’ve seen how parents treat schools as a baby sitting center and then expect their kids to be polished and go off to college. Schools in the U.S. focus too much on disciplining students, dealing with the repercussions of parents personal issues and expectations that they put on their kids.

    As a college administrator, it is a pity to see that students are not up to par as they are missing some of the fundamental skills such as the capacity to do through research and inability to synthesize information. We think that everyone should go to college, but this is not necessarily so. I’ve found that most middle to upper class students take their education for granted and not recognizing that it is a privilege to get a college education.

  • Sharon

    I agree that assessments – standardized tests – are setting the curriculum for our schools and putting all sorts of pressure on our teachers, students, and parents. Creativity, problem solving and critical thinking are not taught since we can not measure these things on a test.

    Unfortunately it won’t matter how many parents want this to change to more developmentally appropriate instruction as we don’t have the money that is driving the education agenda in this country now. If only there were some billionaire philanthropists on the side of educators and parents – people who truly want what we say we value in education.

  • jenny kastner

    ‘Sorry, Johnny, school isn’t about YOU, it’s about what’s in this BOX. So please just sit quietly and try not to wriggle while we plow through this deadening material’.”

    I am writing from Cambridge, MA: Missing from the whole public education debate, is the role of the hugely profitable education industry. It seems to be the elephant that no one wants to examine. I have worked in that industry.

    The education industry has had a stranglehold on our public education system for decades. Each time government establishes a set of goals, the industry hires its guns to design product which it claims is perfectly calibrated to satisfy those goals. Expensive curriculum packages are sold to state and local education departments (payoffs included in the cost of doing business) and end up being forced on teachers, many of whom know better than to rely upon them. Sadly, many teachers have neither the confidence nor the training and experience to resist the Box, and when their students fail to flourish with these one-size-fits-all packages, the teachers are blamed, the parents are blamed, the kids are victimized.

    I know an excellent, highly-respected first grade public school teacher in the state of New York who describes this as a new McCarthyism! Whereas in the past, she and her colleagues could meet with administrators and solve problems together, now they are forced to silently accept these expensive and useless mandates. In her words, “I didn’t sign on for this–’Sorry, Johnny, school isn’t about YOU, it’s about what’s in this BOX. So please just sit quietly and try not to wriggle while we plow through this deadening material’.”

    She refuses to do it. Her students thrive. She is asked to mentor other teachers. She is given students labeled ‘difficult’ or ‘gifted’ because she knows how to individualize teaching and make learning exciting. She is also silenced.

    This industry/school department/government nexus is at the root, I believe, of what is choking the last remaining breath out of our public education system.

  • Robert Gladstone, MD

    I have been a psychotherapist with teens and adults for decades, and like to point out to my clients that we can devote enormous time and effort when we are motivated by internal desires: excitement, love, interest, challenge.

    We fall apart when we are driven by fear: of failure, of disappointing, of not being responsible, of feeling inadequate.

    Too often the fear begins at home from the pressures of parents, and is furthered by schools. The challenge is to change the mental health of parents, and the schools!

  • Jackie Grubb

    Our goals are wrong. I suggest we work on developing self-discipline, responsibility and the skills needed to learn.

    I did that in my junior high classroom back in the 70s. Result was 7th and 8th grade students conducting themselves as mature adults in my classroom.

    To achieve this I had to give up being queen of the classroom and collatorate this with them instead.

  • Robert Gladstone, MD

    I forgot to mention that I live and practice in Carlisle, MA

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    The school systems are all about competition. Period. Compete, Excel, Stand Out , and that’s the bottom line. If a person doesn’t buy into that, if they float above or below, they will not be recognized, but they will most likely be much more content in the long run. It’s sickening, and no, we are not China, we are not other countries…our strengths will be in our creativity and outside the box thinking, being innovative, we don’t need to model, follow anybody else. OUr power if we have left, will be in our uniqueness.

  • Paula

    Obama and Arne Duncan are being pushed by the corporate agenda to privatize education. They are doing this quite effectively – and high stakes testing helps to accelerate this process.

    Listeners can learn more at http://www.citizensforpublicschools.org

  • Bettie from Va. Beach, VA

    The test we should be preparing our youth for is life. You can’t do this by trying to stuff them into a mold. Parents need to step up and say “enough” that is their responsibility to their children. Life should be lived, not feared. Teach children that life is fun and you don’t have to be perfect. GET A GRIP! Let the children play in the mud and chase butterflies once in awhile!

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Muriel, there is a difference between making the classroom a team-work center (more of a sports matter maybe), and taking the competitive edge out of it.
    What are you talking about, wasting time with the teamwork approach. Something Montessori?

  • Teri in Marlboro ma

    Carol dweck the UC Berkeley researcher would point u all to the method by which we praise our children. Fixed mindset praise. That which praises image ability vs ability to learn and grow through mistakes sets kids up to fail. It is only when parents teAchers and coaches believe in their kids’ ability to learn new skills and learn from their mistakes will that kids fall down and get up on his or her own.

    I’m surprised that the book mindset by mrs dweck has not been mentioned. This is a key to why kids are not blossoming in our current culture

  • Anna

    As long as our goal remains to compete globally (the assumption here is, of course, economically), our current and problematic standards for measuring success in schools will remain. Capitalism is based upon quantity not quality. The current education system is a product of industrialization and the movement towards production and consumption. The values of capitalism ARE NOT conducive to emotional, creative, etc. development.

    In order to remove the stresses that the documentary illustrates, we must challenge the most basic objectives of traditional education.

  • Michael McCavera

    The issue here may not be the pressure that children feel but rather the failure of parents to prepare their children for the stress levels of today’s real world. In my generation in England, at age 10 any child, which in my case, meant coming from an extremely poor background, faced immense pressure of tests that, if successfully completed channelled us into the grammar school stream that was in essence the only preparation for university. Failure meant or looking forward to technical school which in essence condemned him/her to a lower status life and a lower income.
    In Canada in the 50′s should a student have wanted to go to Military College he was required to pass a level of mental and physical fitness that was the same as your Marine Corps Officer Candidate School, as well as achieve high academic standards. Success meant dealing with a full day of university courses, supplemented with miiltary and physical training, including at that time competition in inter-collegiate sports with school with 10 times student body.

    This was pressure but life prepared us to face that pressure. We dealt with it and still managed to keep a decent level of mental health. Anyone having difficulties with that pressure was not babied but rather was told to suck it up or face the consequences of failure.

    Mike McCavera
    Merrickville Ontario Canada

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    I have a nephew studying engineering in college, and from day one he was in a co-studying group, a sort of mutual mentoring/tutoring group. I thought, Wow. Talk about collaborative learning. Talk about teamwork.

  • http://cyberfumes.blogspot.com Dave Eger

    Maybe kids should just be allowed to learn what they want to learn. Then, the ones who are really motivated can figure out new and better ways to teach the important things that they’ve found, and we can actually move on to a different system that works better. I just can’t take seriously these baby boomers saying “we need more discipline”. Your generation made that obvious! Why don’t you give the younger generations the freedom to figure out how things should work, since you guys really haven’t led by the greatest of examples so far.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the classics, and I think that they are where the abilities for complex thought come from. I just think it’s ridiculous when people are commenting that kids are spending so much time online. The internet is very interesting. Are teachers just jealous because the kids find them boring? Perhaps if the internet was used as it was originally intended and not decked out with ads like Times Square, kids could actually teach their teachers something meaningful.

  • Jim from Kirby, VT

    Come on – the Educational Testing Service is holding us hostage when their SATs and GREs correlate less than 10% of predicting college and graduate school success.

    Many colleges are dropping these meaningless tests.

  • Heidi Willis

    Am writing from Salisbury Vermont….I retired two years ago from a 30 year career as a primary teacher, the last 18 in a small rural Vermont school. School and learning was once a journey, an adventure for first graders, with time for curiousity and inquiry and reveling in the wonders of the world. With the advent of No Child Left Behind, and the gobalized economy, school and learning has become a grim, relentless race, for teacher and student. What is most galling, is that the goal is for students to become cogs in the economy, not fulfilled human beings. I think students know, deep down, that they are just seen as cogs. I couldn’t bear it, and retired early.

  • Melissa from Fairfield Vermont

    There’s a facebook discussion right now at University of Vermont
    How long can you go without sleep until you die?
    kids are seriously answering around 4 days

    finals week, that’s what it is

  • Larry Judice

    We are so obsessed with where we are in the race that we aren’t even running anymore. In a race every time you look at the competition you stop focusing on running. We don’t have standardized tests at work. We are evaluated on our work. Educating a child takes takes a lifetime yet we want to measure it every time you turn around.

  • Ben Morton

    When at URI for Landscape Architecture we pulled all-nighters many nights a week for three years. Accreditation requires 24/7 access to studio. I think we where move towards the real performance and critical thinking skills that are being discussed but the stress was intense. Just to point out this was not really math or english or science.

  • wendy

    Is it possible that children these days don’t know how to budget their time? That parents/schools have not taught them that fundamental key to success? Over scheduled but without the internal knowledge of how to manage their time when left to their own devices?

  • Laurie

    Laurie from Lexington
    Kids think they must be good at everything because they are responding to testing. They don’t develop passion for anything…don’t go deep and come out of high school not with a passion to learn but ennui with the testing drill as another adult imposed performance standard. The teachers are squelched and depressed and the kids feel that. Critical thinking and process is
    more important than quantity of material.

  • Newt

    Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were both terrible students, and would not have gotten into a mid-level state college, never mind Ivy League. Yet, they had a certain talent.

    As a teacher, I saw many, many, kids who, if not geniuses , were both talented, and bad students. Many have since succeeded, in spite of miserable academic histories. Often they were working part-time jobs, or hobbies, when they “should” have been studying. But their spare-time vocations helped them gain success. American students, especially, tend to be more interested in practical results in life, rather than satisfying adult expectations.

    Students should, especially in their Junior and Senior High School years, be allowed pathways that get them out of traditional classrooms, and into part-time jobs, projects, or whatever, that allow them to develop their talents on their own terms.

  • Trish Kenney

    I have a daughter in 10th grade in Albemarle County, Virginia. This year the school implemented an 8 period schedule requiring the students to take even more classes, many on a semester basis where a full year of material is crammed into one semester. Some students in 12th grade are taking as many as 7 AP classes. The school puts no limit on the number of AP classes a student can take and since the colleges are so competitive the sense is that the children who take fewer APs will not be able to compete with their extremely academic and driven peers. We have heard about children staying up late into the night and even pulling all-nighters in high school. I would like my child to have a normal high school experience and wish the government would put a limit on how many AP’s a student can take in one year.

  • Virginia Savova

    I went to school in an Eastern European country and in my opinion, the main difference is that the US education system treats children as adults too early – they get to choose what to study and argue with the teachers. They are raised to believe to question every authority. My brother’s classroom had students and teachers sitting together on the floor to emphasize equality. Teaching – especially math and science- requires a common belief in asymmetrical respect. Students need to admit that the teacher has something to teach them and knows more than them. The teacher needs to feel empowered to show this. Both of these things are missing here.

  • Fran Doyle

    From Hampton VA. Do foreign countries test all students, as we do in the US, or are tested students selected? Thanks.

  • Kristine (Cincinnati)

    My daughter stayed up very late, into the “wee hours of the morning” last week, working on a project (2 of the 4 people in the group were doing all the work), finishing assignments (for other classes), and studying for a quiz!! Too much!!
    I was so upset FOR her that I was up as well…I felt helpless/distressed for her.
    She is a sophomore in a very good private school. (She studies very late every night, in fact.) It is an intense school! I will forward this podcast to the Head of the upper school. Perhaps this person can bring this topic to the table and add this to her discussion groups (that she regularly holds w/ parents). She needs to have regular discussions w/ her staff re these pressures on High school students!!
    This situation is truly “epidemic” as stated by the guest on today’s show.

  • http://www.democraticeducation.org Dana Bennis

    One key fact that’s missing here is that while other countries like Singapore and Finland are outscoring the United States on the international tests and some have more school days in a year, the actual amount of time students spend in school in those countries is LESS than in the U.S.

    This is because the school days in many of those countries is shorter than the 6-8 hours days students spend at school in this country. Check out Linda Darling Hammond’s book “The Flat World and Education” for the stats on this.

    Let’s stop spreading the myth of longer and more is better, especially when that means more standardization and depersonalization, and less student engagement and deep learning.

  • joan marie davidson

    I must be living on another planet.
    Two children who went to public schools all the way (Brooklyn NY, 20 years of teaching foreign languages and ESL in high school and college and that competitive streak must have whizzed by my students who did well if/when they wanted to, my own kids too.
    Teach the incoming children to speak, read & write English!
    Help repair families. THEN ask teachers to do what they can and must.
    I loved that comment about the “whining”and I agree.
    Middle class parents compete and they pass that on to their children. Face it Mommy and Daddy.

  • Jess

    I think we really need to look at other alternatives to learning. Both of my kids go to a Montessori school in Cambridge and love to learn. The basic philosophy believes that kids are the most absorbent before the age of 6 and introduce concepts in ways the kids enjoy. My daughter is in third grade, above average in math and reading and has about an hour of homework a week. She doesn’t need it because she gets everything in school. No pressure, she came home to do her own extra research on a project she did in school (on Costa Rica) because she was so excited. This is the way school should be for grade schoolers, teaching them their role in the world.

  • Joan Davidson,Ph.d


  • Catherine Majumdar

    I am from Idaho It is interesting that in India and Finnland, two countries that are ‘way up there” in educational achievement, extra curricular activities are just that – not part of school. Sports is something you do if you have the time and talent after your studies are done. Finnland doesn’t do national standardized tests yet their students study hard and do well on international tests. In these countries School is for learning, learning is a means to eventually getting a good job and supportting yourself and family. I think there is a big disconnect in this country between learning and the ultimate result – meaningful work. Many families I know are so wound up with extra curricular activities that it is stressful to actually do the work necessary to learn anything.

  • joan marie davidson

    I must be living on another planet.
    Two children who went to public schools all the way (Brooklyn NY, 20 years of teaching foreign languages and ESL in high school and college and that competitive streak must have whizzed by my students who did well if/when they wanted to, my own kids too.
    Teach the incoming children to speak, read & write English!
    Help repair families. THEN ask teachers to do what they can and must.
    I loved that comment about the “whining”and I agree.
    Middle class parents compete and they pass that on to their children. Face it Mommy and Daddy.
    Northfield, Vermont

  • Aaron

    You would be a fool to think that drugs are just now infiltrating our colleges. I remember people walking out of class for a “pick me up”. Not EVERY person belongs in college. Not every person will graduate high school. Give them a chance. If they don’t take it….. Oh well. This documentary sounds very one sided and an attempt to paint our nation with it’s own brush rather than represent a COMPLETE picture.

  • geffe

    My daughter is a senior at a large New England University and she’s doing very well. Of course she’s very engaged and was not raised in a high pressure environment. She also went to a small rural high school but she had great teachers. We never pressured her to do anything more than getting her homework done. She was allowed to fail. She played out side, does winter sports (in Vermont you have to) she took art classes and she reads a lot for pleasure. This is the key I think, let them be kids. Reading is the key as well, if they enjoy it it will help in college. Also if you want them to do well on the SAT’s have them take Latin, if they can handle it. If the kid is dyslexic that’s another issue

    She did have friends who were like some of the kids described as being pushed beyond the limits of what I would be say is normal. They were all on drugs to help them cope. A lot of them are now baskets cases. My daughter is not a straight A student, although in the top 90% of her class and she is enjoying her college experience. Why? Because both her mother and I do not pressure her to be what she is not. She’s bright, engaged, seems pretty well adjusted. To much pressure is a bad thing in my view.

  • Robert Gladstone, MD

    I would like to point out that telling kids they should be creative, take failure well, take risks, etc. is to generate fear of failure. Give them opportunities, let them fail and be frustrated by it, express fear of risk, be uncreative, and in their open ended opportunities to run with things without fear, they will grow and acquire those wonderful qualities we all want to see in them.

    Robert J Gladstone, MD

    Carlisle, MA

  • Susan St.Martin

    Great topic!

    With the risk of oversimplifying the issue but taking a queue from the film’s name “Race to Nowhere” – any individual or any entity; be that an athlete, business, government or institution- must set a “goal”. What is this “mark” that the Secretary of Education wants America to hit? Athletes (like marathoners) look at a distance and tailor training and support to match that goal. Businesses look at sales, margins etc. Does our country have arbitrary (aka unrealistic) academic expectations and if not what exactly do we want our students to achieve?

    If our students are entering a global academic pool, we should be trying to understand where they can hone specific contributions to a world community instead of expecting them to be able to do it all. A distance runner does not run optimally as a sprinter and vice versa.

    Sue St.Martin, East Kingston, NH

  • Liz

    Kristine writes:

    “My daughter stayed up very late, into the “wee hours of the morning” last week, working on a project (2 of the 4 people in the group were doing all the work), finishing assignments (for other classes), and studying for a quiz!! Too much!!
    I was so upset FOR her that I was up as well…I felt helpless/distressed for her.
    She is a sophomore in a very good private school.”

    This is confusing to me, because you are defining the school as very good and then blaming the school for how much she has to do. Which is it?

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Michael at 11:50, good thing I wasn’t wired to want to be a Marine. I too was in a very competitive school environment, and I would measure up (kind of in a trance, follow the yellow brick road), but I didn’t want to be “a Marine,” whatever the equivalent was.
    I don’t see that as failure on my part. I don’t see that as failure on anyone’s part not to get from A to Z exactly as specified. The “teacher’s pet” would do that, but it was kind of juvenile, kind of a marker of failures on the home front, if no one had any better perspective than that.
    I see that in reality schools sometimes only point ONE PATH. If you want to write the “Great American Novel, enter here.” And if you fail, hey. That sort of thing. An educational institution sometimes doesn’t know what “success” will really look like. So the students start to think up what road they would like to be on.
    Maybe we don’t know where they are headed, yet.

  • Audra Bucklin

    This was a fascinating and important broadcast and I look forward to viewing the documentary “Race to Nowhere”. In listening to the varying viewpoints about whether or not students are or should be ‘stressed’ as well as the role of testing and student performance measurement in the whole mix, I think it’s important to consider the following:

    1. Stress is directly proportionate to the disconnect between what is expected and what we are capable of. So for instance, a student who is not challenged to the level of his/her ability can experience as much stress/negative emotion as a student who is expected (or expects) to do too much. I can’t agree more with the need for a more student centered approach to teaching.

    2. Teachers must join the discussion of how to best measure and define student success instead of continuing to debate whether or not it should be measured. It’s very healthy for all individuals and institutions to make goals and then collect information/feedback on whether they are succeeding in meeting these goals. We need to continually assess how accurately our tools are measuring student success and educate our lawmakers, students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members accordingly.

    Thanks for airing a program that keeps this conversation going. Ultimately, we all need to be better educated about education!

  • Tom

    All that is required for our education system to succeed and by inference for all of us to succeed is for it/we to have a single focus on acquiring “critical thinking skills” and applying them to whatever situation we find ourselves in the future and by adaptation finding the finish line of whatever race we choose to run. We always have a choice at any point in time.

    Framingham, MA

  • Yamandu Ploskonka

    Many discussions on the quality of education in the United States point to these two extremes of either the hiper-test-oriented, or the laissez-faire.
    Either tends to miss the ugly fact that successful schooling has more to do with getting the kid to be better adapted to deal with an adult world where both compliance and initiative are prized and necessary, where consumption and fads are encouraged but spending on them will sink you, where being popular (k.k.a. “people skills”) is indeed the fastest way to climb up in your career, but you also need a great GPA and a fancy degree.
    Of course such a mix of conflicting goals is a sure recipe for confusion at least, when not disaster and a general sense of failure all around. Mostly because too many people involved in these matters prefer to be in some sort of denial, in the world of make-believe that is Education.
    A concern for a better way needs to notice that kids being able to figure it out on their own just doesn’t do. Yes, as Ben from Illinois says, some of them might, yet as a teacher of over 20 years I know that most won’t, and as educators, we keep failing these and our society when we cannot help them. This kind of intervention should be our primary role.
    I’m afraid that as a civilization we still will need to rely on those few who “get it” on their own, and I guess we’ll need to get used to things being that way still for a long time. Research shows few things are harder to find than a teacher or, worse, a school that can transmit balance in life, and be effective at getting both the tests aced, and joy in life strengthening the growing bones and soul of future responsible citizens.

    formerly a teacher in Austin, TX, Minas, Uruguay and La Paz, Bolivia.

  • aaron in watertown, ma

    If we think that schooling and education begins and ends with schools, we are doomed to be behind the world.

  • Shawn Patterson

    I am in my late thirties. I am also moderately dyslexic as well. Unfortunately, I went to school in a time where you had to fend for yourself as far as techniques and strategies to deal with learning disabilities. Needless to say, no matter how hard I tried, when I compared myself with my fellow classmates, I fell way below the mark. My parents would see how stressed out I would get and they would take me aside and talk to me. They would explain that no matter what, I should never compare myself with others. They taught me how to make goals, not just short time but long time as well, and how to dream of the future. If I stressed for a test, they would ask me “What is the worst thing that will happen if I fail.” After getting through the majority of my imagined horrors, I found out that the worst thing that could happen is that I would have to take the test over again. I am eternally grateful to my parents for teaching me to be grounded.
    My folks also told me that they couldn’t afford to send me to college. So I joined the military and successfully completed a 20 year career. Now I am going to college, full-time. I still have problems and I am probably not the smartest student in my classes. But now that I am a “seasoned adult”, I look at the younger students around me and see the stress they build up on themselves. I don’t understand it. The only way I can see to combat such a problem starts with the home. Parents need to talk to their children and teach them to “ground themselves” – to look at the situation and see it for what it is. Also parents need to teach that there are many roads to a goal and not one road is not better or worse than the other. The most important lesson to be learned is that not all roads to life are the same and should be treated as such. Without these lessons I know that I would NEVER have dared to chase my dreams.

  • Kevin

    Prof. Clare Graves of Union College, Schenectady once said the question we should ask first is:

    “Who should lead Whom to do What, Where?”

    When we ask this basic question for the current topic, we see the Whom (the children), are not a monolithic population.

    The development of responsibility and understanding that there are future consequences for present actions is of importance to a large group of students who haven’t developed those brain circuits fully yet.

    For another segment of this “Whom” population, important is to learn to work and strategize within the “rules” to get ahead.

    For another segment, important is to learn to go beyond the rules and find new ways of seeing things, which includes the process of changing the rules themselves.

    Trying to speak of a monolithic solution to all three of these “Whoom” groupings at the same time will foster a lot of discussion without ever coming to a conclusion, because the needs of these three groups are very different. (Compare the first to the last one I mentioned, where the actual approaches to teaching those groups are nearly opposites.)

    If we were first to better “define the problem” — and Prof. Graves’ template question is a good start — we would find a stratified, complex set of solutions to be approached all at the same time.

    The real innovation here would be to see how to handle these complex issues in a way that would include radio, but wouldn’t end up with a lot of points being made (thank you, Tom, it is appreciated), but no real advancement in the overall solution being concretely made.

    Would On Point be interested in working on this last innovation with me?


  • Ben Hart

    Wanted to give the perspective that has not been talked about. That of a recent college graduate educated in a rural setting (both college and high school)

    I am an mechanical engineer, currently working in an industrial setting. I can say with absolute certainty, that my foreign educated counterpoints are SIGNIFICANTLY better educated than I am… as well, they are better prepared for thinking “outside the box” and creatively than I was.

    A brief background on myself: I grew up and went to high school in a fairly rural part of South Dakota. I graduated in 1999. In high school, I took all the science and math AP classes that were offered (Calculus, Physics, Chemistry) and graduated with a 3.8 GPA. Now, what I am going to say next is NOT a comment on my intelligence… I NEVER studied once in my four years of high school for any test, I NEVER wrote a sincerely researched paper, I NEVER had to take a pop quiz, and I NEVER had to take a midterm, semester, or final exam. I skated through high school with minimal effort.

    I took several years off after high school to work. I then went to college in a rural setting in midcoast Maine in 2004. The first semester was a bit of a rude awakening, but after I got the swing of it, I was able to graduate in 4 years with a double major and a 3.8 GPA. Once again, the amount of effort that I put in was minimal compared to what I received.

    So, I disagree completely with Vicki and Denise that we need to foster creativity and reduce the amount of stress on our students. If we do that, there will be a sharp decline in the number of American, qualified, and effective people in high skill positions (engineering, medicine, etc.). We need to ramp up the pressure, ramp up the intensity, and ramp up punishment for those who don’t put in the effort. I firmly believe that education is not a right, but a privilege that needs to be worked VERY hard for. If you don’t work hard for it, then you fail. If you fail, then you must go to try another route.

    When we treat education as a right, then we end up with unmotivated and uneducated students with absolutely no work ethic. That is what we have now and what a lighter approach to education will breed. The poor education we receive these days is the reason why we plan to home school and why many people from rural setting are going that same route.

  • Robert Walty

    I’ve been listening to the show which is really informative, but you have only talked about the “race” but not the destination. The destination has changed from somewhere to nowhere in the sense that in the America of the past, say 50 years ago, a student could aspire to any kind of job, form college professor or wall street tycoon to pipe fitter or welder or airframe mechanic (my dad) or auto assembler, etc. and once in a field work their way up the “ladder” by learning on-the-job into a very comfortable life for themselves and thier families. Through the magic of globalization, (an inflated version of a soviet style managed economy), we have shipped those jobs overseas. Not everyone is cut out for a white collar job, and the blue collar jobs are becoming more scarce and therefore low paying, so many young people really do find themselves in a race to nowhere, a place in which they really don’t fit and will not be happy. The next obvious step is to ship the people overseas along with the jobs unless we can find the political will to buck the globalization tide, protect our workers by leveling the playing field and keeping capital from flying away to build factories in forign countries. As to innovation, there is no point of innovating in America if its only to ship the innovation out of the country to generate revenue for forign manufacturers which is how it works in almost every industry I am aware of. Crativity has become highly over rated and falsely promoted in our schools.

  • Linda

    I am as distressed about the education of our children as the film maker, and applaude her for creating a public dialogue. I work in a mostly low-income school system in Mass. that is forced to teach to the test. The test takes much time and provides no learning feedback, only, months later, a score. Gone are projects, because they take too long, provide multi-disciplinary learning that cannot be verified by a number, and parents are too busy working or stressed that they barely participate in the lives of their kids. Gone, too, for many children are contact with other institutions that might have imparted values such as honesty and good manners – churches and family-oriented groups such as the Grange and scouting.

    I think much of the problem is economic in nature. We tell all kids to go to college to get a good job. There are plenty who would have, in a past era, had meaningful lives working with their hands, using their spare time to think deeply about their interests, but many of those jobs no longer exist, thanks to advances in technology. Many remaining jobs have gone overseas – control of our economy having been taken over by vast multinational corporations who cannot be loyal to the local community. Teachers – individualistic, passionate teachers who love learning and love sharing it with kids, and do not make too much of the “science” of teaching – have to conform or lose their jobs to a new era of statistician “teachers” who, frighteningly, know no other way to teach.

    Schools are afraid of making someone upset, and thus try to be values-free and discourage the individual connections with students that make certain teachers life-changing. The teacher might say something controversial. Once when I suggested an idea in the teachers’ room, a colleage pursed her lips and said slowly, “What you have to understand is that you have to keep your head down around here.”

    I see a backlash rising in the form of the homeschooling movement, and also the creation of charter and private schools. My family has always believed in the democracy of public schools but even my own relatives are sending their kids to private school to avoid the dulling of their childrens’ minds by anxiety and meaningless work.

    School should allow happiness in learning – kids love to learn by their very nature. To remove this is to remove the meaningfulness – and that is why students are disconnecting in droves.

    A good book that expresses much of this line of thought is “Weapons of Mass Instruction” by John Taylor Gatto.

  • http://www.markpatterson.ca Mark Patterson

    If you ever wonder how the demands of the work force are in sync with the “high-performance” culture in education just count the number of lawyers and bankers churned out every year.

    High performance is not synonymous risk.

    High performance is really about about getting that more-than-well-paying job which, alas, is the only thing that counts anymore.

    Innovators and creative types – their work not yet in the full bloom of ample, visible financial reward will get scant attention, recognition and encouragement indeed.

  • http://www.willsworks.net william kranz

    I’m 63 and retired. Have Master’s degrees from MIT and WPI. I have lived my life in the NE. Have not seen the film, but I suspect the sad truth is we are pushing too hard. I had a ‘great’ education. Probably not well rounded, but those are good technical schools. I probably learned a way to think about solving a problem, but the sad truth is that in my 40 years of professional life I never used any of the high level stuff I learned at those schools. More often that not what was really required in day to day activity was stuff I learned in high school. Infrequently I had to get some on the job training by learning new things. But by and large the college degree was an entry pass to get the job, and had nothing to do with performing the job.

    I find this a sad state of affairs. I would have liked to be challenged and have my education be useful. By and large it wasn’t like that.

  • Ned

    I’d like to support the idea expressed by the prof from Michigan that standardized test scores are virtually meaningless. This is not sour grapes: when I finished my BS in physics 20 years ago, I took the GRE’s and scored verbal 760, Math 800, Quantitative 800. 800 is the maximum possible score, and that year a 720 would put you in the 99th percentile in the quantitative test. My verbal score would probably have been better if I hadn’t spent the previous several years hanging with the physics nerds. But all this showed was my ability to take a test. A test is not a “result” in the sense that people mean when they say that “We need RESULTS in education.” I’ve been working construction since I graduated–the ability to take tests does not necessarily translate into the ability to compete and produce in the workplace.
    Also, a huge fraction of the jobs that people with my academic background are today going into did not EXIST when I graduated. The pace of change in this job market has not slowed, and the next 15 years (when my children will be graduating college) are likely to look very little like the past 15 years. We DO NOT KNOW what they will need to know. We do know that they will need to be able to think critically and flexibly, and be able to learn ON THEIR OWN all their lives.
    What my kids need is essentially what John Dewey advocated 100 years ago–they need to be allowed to do work that’s meaningful to them, see what it means to succeed AND to fail, in an environment that allows both; to learn about their own strengths and weaknesses so that they know how to get things done–real things–not how to take a fill-in-the-dots test. When was the last time you needed to take a fill-in-the-dots test to complete a project at work?
    I am not advocating some kind of “soft,” laissez-faire, anything-goes environment. At school, my kids are working above “grade level” (another concept of dubious value,) are required to be responsible & respectful, are required to memorize poetry as well as learn algebra, and are given a huge amount of free time to plan and execute their own projects.
    It works.

  • Ann, Barrington, Rhode Island

    THIS IS HOW TO CHANGE AMERICAN EDUCATION, by no later than next September, by integrating learning from many “subject” areas:


    PRELIMINARY WORK: Teacher learns how to instruct kids in drawing skills from the book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, especially contour drawing, and positive/negative space work. That gives kids the skills to do some visual thinking and visual planning, rather than just using words. The teacher may want to team-teach this with the Art teacher. Thruout this entire semester, specialist teachers in the arts can and should be brought in, but, if the school can’t or won’t allow that, the classroom teacher should know the basics of teaching drawing, anyway, & this book makes that simple. The teacher will also instruct in creative techniques, from brainstorming thru resolution.

    Kids will learn about the Mardi Gras looseleaf binders that each one will keep: what the binders are for, what the kids’ responsibilities are, etc. The binders will include evidence of all of the kids’ investigations, learnings, ideas, research, etc., etc. The content will take the form of: drawings, plans, writing, math calculations, construction drawings, fabric swatches, tool lists, drawings of tools used, etc., etc.

    1st assignment: Kids participate while teacher shows a slide show, or power point, and/or reference books, and/or movies/DVD’s about Mardi Gras Around the World. Participation includes asking questions, remarking, doing drawing and color studies, mimicking dance movements, recreating sounds and musical riffs, etc. There should be lots of books so that kids can draw into their Mardi Gras looseleaf notebooks from the start. There should be musical instruments around, but kids can also make them as part of their Mardi Gras work!

    2nd assignment: Classroom kids suggest themes for a Mardi Gras. They discuss, vote & select (all kids must participate. Teacher has some veto power, which should be used lightly; however, the teacher MUST be extremely prepared for this particular day! The teacher MUST have a sense of how LEARNING CAN BE BEST INTEGRATED BASED ON THE MARDI GRAS THEME THAT IS CHOSEN! The teacher has the responsibility to lead the kids into the richest area for thematic work!)

    3rd assignment: Each kid has to work on every aspect of the Mardi Gras: music, floats, costumes, characters, route, publicity, handicapped access, etc., etc. This discussion sets the content for the rest of the semester via individual learning plans for each student. (Chemo-brain here: I forget the term I really want to use.)

    All subsequent assignments include math, reading, research, writing, public speaking, history, visual learning, kinesthetic learning, etc. Subsequent assignments include the design, construction, and performance of a Mardi Gras for the community, so invitations and publicity and access are also part of the Mardi Gras.

    This can be done at all grade levels from 3rd grade on up. It should be considered essential in 7th grade and again in the 11th grade. If a school is not willing to devote a whole semester to it by 8th grade, there should be a 2-month “inter-session” devoted to it entirely.

    I have too much chemo-brain to go into more details, but, TOM, THIS IS THE ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION, which you intoned as if it were a “quandary”,
    “how are teachers supposed to teach science and math and creativity, too?” LEARNING INTEGRATED WITH ALL THE ARTS CAN AND DOES DO IT!!! It’s NOT a quandary; it’s just that America refuses to take the arts seriously, and has, for the most part, no idea how great the arts are for INTEGRATED LEARNING! Too many Americans, educators included, think “arts” and think “Picasso, ha! ha!”. Sad!

    Actually, I could teach math by giving an assignment for kids to design weathervanes! They would learn things that they can’t in a test-driven curriculum!

    Thanks for airing this important topic!!!

  • http://iOriginsBooks.com Jeanette Kroese Thomson

    Thank you for your engaging and important subject today. How to educate the young is at a crisis stage today. Not just in the USA, but everywhere. Our new tool of technology is wonderful, but also a slave driver. We continue the problem by valuing all learning by “teaching to the test.” It may complement measurement, but is it really revealing a young person’s accumulative learning–knowledge and mental & physical health? Beyond this testing should be the ability to problem solve and become an independent life-long learner. Actually, the USA has had a history of producing pragmatic/problem solving individuals within public education that has put the country in a leadership role down through the years, thanks to John Dewey and others. As an educator and reading specialist interested in helping parents to take an active role in their child’s education, I think parents are the huge resource that is being left outside of the equation. Parents are the continuum for the child. They are the first educators.They can do much more than just supervise homework assignments. In fact, the homework puts the parents into a passive role disciplinary role. Instead parents should be equipped to guide their children in active learning. When parents understand this active participation, the entire lifestyle of the family will reflect this. Community learning centers would then be for everyone–not just a particular age group. Parents and other adults who model the excitement and joy of learning will do as much or more than any classroom setting. It in fact will enhance what happens in the school and will support stressed-out teachers who must meet 15, 20 or even 30 students, not just a one on one encounter. Believe me, a teacher can tell in a short time, those students who have an active and positive attitude for learning. They are the ones raising their hands, searching for answers and participating fully. Most times on meeting the parents, a teacher sees the source of this child’s enthusiam. Michelle Rhee continually puts the blame on the teachers, she should look more deeply into the problem and see that there are more factors involved than the person on the front line in the schools. Has she ever been a teacher? Give the teachers a break and get busy in the real life setting. It is a 24 hour process that begins with the home and community. There are many adults that need an opportunity for more education as well. Andrew Carnegie opened up this resource with public libraries that are doted all over the country. Why must education today be separated into little boxes called schools? Life-long learning produces active and participatory citizens to enrich a democratic and free society. Let’s do it! (By the way, the failing educational system today is why many parents are choosing to “Homeschool” their children. Jeanette Kroese Thomson:iOriginsBooks.com

  • http://indigeny-energetics.blogspot.com Ukumbwa Sauti

    There is so much clarity and wisdom held in the words and intentions of all the respondents here on this page, qualitatively much more than can be gleaned from one, even amazing video production. Therein lies the crux of the issue – how do we really access the genius of a nation, of a community and even a single school as our advertising/media-fueled corporatocracy chugs across our cultural hinterland, bellowing black, choking smoke and all we can see is the fantasy-glitter of “progress”. Where is the wisdom of the indigenous/universal (except, well, to us) concept of the coyote/blue jay/crow/spider trickster that points to the folly in our hubris? Where is the respect of the fantastic in the miniscule and the gradual? As Daniel Quinn might have us ask, ‘why are we still hell-bent (literally!) on being “takers” and not “leavers”? And how is it that we can watch the death of our children’s spirits with such calm reserve, seemingly having lost the ability to rally our troops and light our torches, take up our pitchforks and chase the demons of mediocre excess from our midst…and, indeed, from inside our modern and fallacious construct of our very selves?

    May we find ways to advance our “conversations” off the cyber-page and onto the pages of a progressive future-historical record of sanity, clarity and positive cultural discourse and action that will bouy the hearts and minds of our children and our children’s children so that they finally can truly know why they are here….and didn’t we invite them in the first place?

  • Pauline Nelson

    We moved to California from England while our three daughters were in school, and could not believe the difference in emphasis. Massive increase in homework, almost all of it busywork. My kids were suddenly terrified to miss one day of school, after having been pretty relaxed in England. Also, in class time was handled very differently. Here they gallop through so many books in English class, instead of actually reading any of them thoughtfully and critically. It’s all about a checklist. I’ve seen a big increase in anxiety about grades in my daughters, but I have not seen any encouragement towards genuinely independent thought.

  • geffe

    “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” is not a good book. It does not teach drawing, which is really more about geometry. That blind contour stuff is a useless exercise that does nothing to teach anyone how to draw. Not one artist trained before modernism took over ever did that nonsense.

    Drawing from life is about looking, understanding how to measure and relate shapes to the reality of what is before you. It’s about geometry as Albrecht Dürer was found of saying.

  • I Was a Teenaged Burnout

    I hardly slept in high school. I lost lots of weight and was generally miserable. We routinely had 6 – 8 hours of homework a night as early as 10th grade.

    This was mainly for parental / teacher / school admin bragging rights (AP/IB/SAT/PSAT test scores, school rankings, etc.)

    School turned learning into a joyless, pointless slog.

    Fear of failure was / has been my main motivator in life.

    I would NEVER do this to a child EVER.

  • http://www.markpatterson.ca Mark Patterson

    I remember the “stress” I experienced in High School – especially during exams.

    Now, I look back and see my stress was due to the fact that I really wasn’t working hard enough – and least of all, effectively. I fiddled and got distracted a lot.

    Because my education was essentially up to me, I had to learn how to do everything myself. How to study, how to memorize, how to write – all with little or no constructive, consistent feedback from my parents or teachers. But they were good at amplifying expectations.

    I suggest parents with school stressed kids take a hard look at what goes on when their child is studying. Ask yourself if you are, in essence, kicking them off the dock and expecting them to swim?

  • I Was a Teenaged Burnout

    Parents/teachers bent on turning kids into workaholic overachievers are misleading them.

    They are prepping them for a meritocracy that doesn’t really exist in the grownup world.

    In the “real world,” personality, attractiveness, wealth, and social connections often trump intelligence and intellectual achievements (and even hard work).

    Many parents/educators try to address this by emphasizing a “well-rounded” education complemented with impressive extra-curriculars. However, they primarily push this in order to dazzle college admissions committees.

    Other countries are not nearly so obsessed with churning out “well-rounded” and “creative” students and yet they seem to be cleaning our clocks, no?

  • eliz

    MA tests high on the PISA. We would be in the top 2 or 3 countries in different subject areas in different years.

    What are we doing that is so different than other states? We need to look at the poorly performing states and the high performing states and move from there.

    Testing creates kids who are good test takers. We need project based learning, kids need time, the arts, physical activity and an awareness of their inner lives. This last piece is met thought literature and the arts, but could be made more specific also.

  • http://eastbayhomework.blogspot.com/ Kerry Dickinson

    Standardized tests used to be an internal measure for schools and teachers to assess how well they were teaching their students. As soon as schools started comparing their test scores to other schools or states or countries, the focus became all about competition and not about how well a child was learning.

    So, one thing we can do as a country to improve public education is encourage fewer standardized tests in schools, and suggest that scores remain private within each school, and only shown to parents if they ask to see their child’s scores.

    I personally don’t care about the scores my kids get on standardized tests. I see them for who they are, not for how well they perform.

    I write about issues like this is my blog, East Bay Homework Blog. I’m also on the Advisory Board of Race to Nowhere. Thank you for having Vicki and Denise Pope on the show!

  • http://shulmandesign.net Alan Shulman

    As to art before modernism took over, when in fact DID modernism take over and what is meant by modernism? Is it the departure of painting and drawing from the strictly visually realistic? Photography does that kind of realism much better.

    The fact that painting has moved in a direction to sometimes express things not seen but perhaps perceived by other senses or intelligences does not make it illegitimate; just because it draws on different perspectives than were practiced by the more able Renaissance artists does not make it illegitimate.

    And even among those artists, some of the most powerful paintings from that early time, those of Bosch, Brueghel, El Greco, depart from the strictly representative, the visually “accurate.” Painting has used distortion for a long time to great effect.

    I guess I’ve been corrupted by the modernists. I was trained in part by two refugees from the Bauhaus. Their courses of study involved, among many other devices and exercises, blind contour drawing long before “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” appeared. We also did 10-second gesture drawings. Both trained my hand to draw what my eye saw and my body felt. Maybe you’ve tried it and it didn’t work for you. That doesn’t make it useless.

  • John E Bishop

    Annapolis, MD

  • John E Bishop

    Ken Robinson’s book, The Element should be part of this discussion. Check out his 2006 and 2010 TED videos.
    John Bishop
    Annapolis, MD

  • Tamara

    Yes, Fort Gwinn! You are correct in stating that “Many incoming freshmen have been given an education that is a mile wide and an inch deep.”
    I’ve been continually amazed at the number of high achieving students I’ve met that I classify as Smart/Dumb–they get fabulous test scores,have extracurricular activities a mile long, but know nothing. My daughter came home from an honors class in high school amazed that an upper classman expressed shock at the teacher for referring to England as an island. The student had no idea. After nearly 12 years of education.
    Education has become a game in which learning, thinking, growing are not the winning cards.

  • Joseph

    Looking back I don’t know how I managed to get such a good education in public K-12 schools forty years ago (1960-1972). So good that by the 8th grade I knew I wanted to attend college and major in math, science, or engineering. This with the only standardized testing I recall being the SAT (760 math [out of 800], 640 verbal [out of 800]. I also don’t recall having to be bribed or cajoled into learning, I never even heard of ADD, and always thoroughly enjoyed my three month summer break. Oh, and I did attend university obtaining BS and PhD degrees in chemical engineering. Must have been a fluke?

    Joseph Park Falls

  • geffe

    Blind contour drawing is a waste of time. Modernism has destroyed art education as it’s thrown out any idea of skill. It’s based on the absurd notion that anyone can be an “artist”. Funny how all the other creative disciplines require years of study based what came before. In music you learn the same scales that Bach did. In drama, and writing it’s the same thing. One needs a good foundation in which to build on. It’s only in painting and sculpture that you find this idea of “expressing yourself” as the prevailing ideology. As for photography being better than painting in terms of realism, well this proves to me that your Bauhaus education was very successful.

    he fact that painting has moved in a direction to sometimes express things not seen but perhaps perceived by other senses or intelligences does not make it illegitimate I never said that it did. I was talking about education and drawing skills.

    We also did 10-second gesture drawings. I’m sure this must have been fun. But what did you learn about drawing the figure other than making scribbled drawings that most likely were more about you than drawing from life. Again what does a person with no idea about how to draw do with this kind of absurd approach? They make child like drawings which don’t really teach one anything. Now if you learn how to draw in a more traditional manner you have a better chance of making some very good 10-second gesture drawings.

    I don’t object to 10-second gesture drawings, I object to this whole notion of modernism and post-modernism making art way to self indulgent. It is after all a visual art.

  • Brian

    I am a teacher and tutor. I did not come through the typical teacher education system; I was an engineer for 13 years and decided to try to do something about the state of science and math education in this country.

    Last night one of my tutees, after an hour session of trying to catch her up for being sick for 3 days and operating on 4 hours of sleep, said: “I love learning; I hate school.”

    I was horrified, sad, and speechless.

  • Gordon Earl

    From Goleta, CA:
    As a parent of children who are headed toward the rigors of high school and hopefully college, I was keenly interested in your discussion on, “Student Stress, Competition & the Educational “Race to Nowhere””. Afterward, I asked a Chinese colleague about her perspective. Her response: “Do you know why we came to America? Because we did not want our children to suffer like that”.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Geffe, how do you teach drawing? I’m wondering if it is chiefly a learn-by-doing skill. I think the “drawing on the right side of the brain” book tells us we are born with the ability to draw and it gets suppressed somehow about 2nd grade. You learn from your classmates that you are “supposed to” draw a tree like this.
    How does drawing, later in life, relate to general intelligence/perceptiveness/creativity?
    You and Shulman seem in a kind of stand-off. I’ll tell you that in college I used to do art on my own when in need of capturing something visual. I sat on my bed and drew the reflections on the huge set of windows across the way, with tree branches lacing among the reflections, the drama of light’s reflections emphasizing all parts. I sat on my bed and drew a pewter creamer next to a gray basic dress I had made, draped next to it. I drew certain faces. Then I did collages of colored paper for dramatic effect, a gorilla on a cliff doing something; and something in the style of I think it’s Schiele, being a teacher I didn’t much like, in tempera. I could be very realistic about faces, and I know I can do that if need be, but I did art not for “credit,” but out of need. They are like tattoos, markers in my life. If there were not art and artists, I would not have thought to use those tools for whatever the reason was.
    Just saying, if students are getting some benefit, they’ll persist. If not, they’ll look elsewhere. No one FORCES students to take art classes that I know of.

  • Jon

    The Interesting part is despite the pressure to succeed many of the students who do best in school are being fooled into believing that they are being prepared for the real world.

    I teach college Freshman and have found about 1% of my students have the ability to actually cope with a problem in an intellectual way. Most of my students cannot answer a question posed to them unless they were at some point told the answer. Students, including myself, were spoonfed information their entire lives as if that somehow made them smart.

    We exist in a society so overwhelmed with information that the notion that we are somehow going to give someone a comprehensive education is completely ridiculous.

    We need to begin teaching people how to evaluate and interpret data rather than memorizing it. When it was possible to memorize the most important elements of human learning this approach may have made sense, but it is impossible now. Why are we bogging ourselves down with an impossible task? Anything we wish to know is at our fingertips, why are we so concerned with memorizing it?

  • Bush’s fault

    I read today’s comments to the point of nausea…the conclusion..? Nothing is going to change; there is no cohesive voice. My kids are out, and I don’t care.

  • Penelope

    Is this a joke? Life is high-pressure. How are children going to perform in life if they are coddled throughout life. Stressing over applying to college while also filling out scholarship applications is nothing new. Everyone couldn’t and shouldn’t make it into Ivy League. There are plenty of other options, but we shouldn’t promote or reward mediocrity. All these parents and teachers whining and crying need to be prepared to have their children living with them for the rest of their life. We live in a competitive, global society. Schools should be preparing children to cope. I am a former teacher and saw little wrong with the current pace in school. In fact, they could probably beef it up a little more. Parents might be putting too much pressure on the child, but schools are not.

  • Laurie

    What I miss from this conversation is a discussion of how issues of wealth, class, and race play into these issues. We’re hearing a lot about overachieving students at high performing schools, and yet the reality for many students in this country is that their schools are underfunded, their classes are large, and they receive little educational support at home. It seems to me that the disparity of wealth in this country is a key factor in understanding how students can be both overworked and underperforming. These are, in fact, two distinct groups of students.

  • Tony

    Two points:
    1) the elephant in the room is the lack of jobs for high school graduates, courtesy of our short sided policies that enabled most of them to be exported over the last 2-3 decades. When I completed high school in the early 70′s, unless you were a complete screw up, you could always find a decent paying job without a college degree. Not so today, thereby amplifying the pressure to overachieve and get into the best colleges; 2) nature and play. Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods” cites numerous studies that provide irrefutable evidence that kids who are regularly exposed to nature and otherwise allowed to express their creative sides through unstructured play become better observers, better learners, and more creative problem-solvers. That’s me–a so-so student in the structured classroom, but able to excel in graduate school and be able do the things I love for a career (geology, nature) because I spent tons of time outside as a kid, soaking it all up. I learned how to learn. Between ever longer school days/years (increasingly without recess or field trips), homework, sports, music lessons, etc, a majority of today’s kids don’t have 30 seconds of unstructured time in a day, much less exposure to nature.

  • Ruth Ryan

    Whenever I hear that US students perform less well than their counterparts in other countries, I wonder who exactly is being sampled, and if the tested groups are exactly alike. Many, many other countries start “sorting” their students very early on, sometimes after the 6th year of school, and certainly at the start of high school. Not everyone moves on into college preparatory settings in those countries; in their high schools only the most talented students remain because the other kids have been siphoned off into technical schools, agricultural training, or maybe into no school at all. Contrast that with the U.S., where everyone moves on to high school and there is a much more diverse set of abilities present in any given class. If you test a presorted group against a group that has not been presorted for ability, what do you expect? Does anyone know the answer to this question? Are like populations really being tested?

    In talking to young parents at work, I hear crazy stories about how their little kids are expected to know how to read by the end of kindergarten, and that there are long reading lists required of these little ones during the summer before first grade. That is just nuts. We are stealing childhood from children.

  • http://whilewestillhavetime.blogspot.com/ John Hamilton

    There’s a certain silliness to this conversation. Is there really a mystery about what has become of our education system? First we had “No child left behind,” and now “Race to the top.” It’s all about the illusion of success as shown by numbers – test scores and other measures that can be codified.

    Barack Obama came here to Madison a year ago to promote “Race to the top,” not knowing a thing about what he was talking about. A race to the top of course means a winner or winners and mostly losers. If wouldn’t be much of a race if everybody won.

    What shows like this never do is take a systems approach. The education system is holographic of our entire socio-economic system. Numbers=success. GNP, growth of output, profits, numbers of voters in “Iraq” and “Afghanistan,” dollars spent on health care, and ad absurdum.

    We haven’t reached the stage where we can intelligently solve the problems we face – our infinite growth economic system, climate change, appropriate technology, unemployment, the banking system, combating terrorism, and, central to it all, our education system.

    We can’t solve these problems now because we don’t know how to look at them. One place to start is to give up the reflexive response of looking at everything in terms of “left” and “right,” which are mental constructs that have outlived their usefulness.

    We will reach the problem-solving stage fairly soon. Our economy, teetering on collapse, likely will collapse. Its interface with corrupt politicians of both parties guarantees collapse, likely in the next few years. Real major crisis changes everything.

  • D

    I worked as a teacher’s aide in a kindergarten class a few years back, and there was so much pressure to get these kids ready for standardized tests that I saw 5 year olds burn out. I shouldn’t have to say that it was a sad, disgusting sight to be witness to.

    Our school system crams useless facts into the heads of children while crushing creativity, passion, interest, and uniqueness. It is a broken, dated system that may have been good for what it was initially designed to do (instill national patriotism in what was, at the time, a collection of individual states that really didn’t care about what the others were doing), but it is woefully unprepared to deal with the modern generation of a globalized society. We have seemingly insurmountable problems, and will need creative, critical thinkers. Not another generation of consumers, feeders, and blind followers.

  • Linda Nedderman-Eaton

    Teachers are not” teaching” anymore. They are expected to just cram facts down the students throats to get them to pass the tests. My daughter is in college and I have sat in on her seminars. They are absolutely nothing like when I went to college. The teachers just go over power point presentations give tons of homework assignments, and then when the assignments are so complicated that the students cannot do them because they were not taught how to do them and the critical thinking is not found in the textbooks either, they just tell the students that if they help them then they are doing the homework for them. My daughter got A’s in high school and the stress was bad then. She is very smart with a very high IQ but is now on medication and getting sick all the time from lack of sleep trying to get through college and frankly learning NOTHING! She has to work part time to help pay for it and works at an accounting agency. She is trying to get a degree in accounting but the facts being crammed down her throat have nothing to do with real world accounting! Even the accountants at her job cannot help her because they say they do not even understand the stuff she is expected to learn basically on her own because the teachers are not teaching. I keep hoping she is not going to have a nervous breakdown. As I mentioned before she is on medication and also comes down with every flu that comes around because the stress is so severe. Something needs to change in this country! Education needs to go back to educating and teaching kids critical thinking again. Also they need childhoods first and they are being robbed of that too.

  • Flowen

    @ Annie Middleton, on December 14th, 2010 at 11:28 AM: re: E.F. Schumacher, said so concisely!

    @ Cathy Tedford, on December 14th, 2010 at 11:36 AM: Right on Cathy!…take money out of the equation and the whole picture changes!

    @ Susan, on December 14th, 2010 at 11:29 AM: so true. The value of unstructured play is vastly under-appreciated, probably because it is so cheap and easy. So rare today in favor of businesses pushing high cost access to the button pushing virtual world, and highly structured performance enhancing activities.

    @ Deb Sabin, on December 14th, 2010 at 11:37 AM: the role of technology is not only over-estimated, it is counter-productive. I apply the 80/20 rule: 80% garbage to make someone rich, 20% worthwhile. It could be the other way around, but most cannot tell the difference. It makes a few very rich when we become dependent on our machines and scores, and distrust and devalue our own humanity.

    @ Tobi, on December 14th, 2010 at 11:42 AM: You are one of the most honest and self-aware posters here. You have hit the nail on the head! I wish you the best of luck, and recognize the difficulty we face in a world where performance and image is valued at the expense of self-expression, creativity, substance, and integrity.

    @ jenny kastner, on December 14th, 2010 at 11:45 AM: “deadening” is the word. It is amazing how schools can take fabulously interesting material and make it so so dull and irrelevant. I use the term “academic industrial complex,” like healthcare insurance, the system is designed to preserve and enhance itself; student and patient needs are low down on the priority list. An illusion becomes myth in devaluing real work in favor of higher cost higher education and loan value.

    @ Robert Gladstone, MD, on December 14th, 2010 at 11:47 AM: I concur 100%. You can see it in many of the posts by parents and teachers/academics alike.

    @ Heidi Willis, on December 14th, 2010 at 11:52 AM: it is dis-heartening; “grim” is the word, and deep down the kids do know it, I agree. It is not really working for anyone, even the corporations that profit so mightily by infecting the education process.

    @ Newt, on December 14th, 2010 at 11:55 AM: There is a lot of truth and reason to the old maxim: “A students become teachers, and B students end up working for C students.”

    @ Shawn Patterson, on December 14th, 2010 at 12:07 PM: I second the importance of “grounding” oneself; now if only parents were so grounded.

    @ Ukumbwa Sauti, on December 14th, 2010 at 12:56 PM: So nicely put, perhaps from an international perspective closer to the Earth?

    The dis-connect between school and real life could be minimized with apprenticeship and technical training programs. Good heating/solar, auto, aviation mechanics, plumbers, builders, electricians and tradesman of all stripes are hard to find, and worth their weight in gold. Unfortunately, our culture, and the academic industrial complex, would have you believe they are only worth copper and lead, reserving the gold for button and paper pushers who mostly create illogical, unreal, complicated plans to hide their valueless corporate exploitations of the population.

    As regular poster Yar recommends, a two year CCC-like program for young people working in the community could go a long way towards adding relevance to education, and taking it out of its’ Ivory Tower.

    The race is not to nowhere, we are in a Race to the Bottom, where the powers that be, wealthy corporate owners, managers, and their political operatives cultivate confusion and illusion for the purpose of increasing economic activity at the expense of personality and environment, expressly for a few [billion] dollars more.

    The Rat Race of the ’60s has morphed into Rats in a Cage Eating Each Other in the 21st Century. Don’t underestimate how tough it is for our young people today, negotiating a corporate gauntlet with no guide or referee; most adults are blind to that reality.

    Unless you’re a parent of a teen/pre-teen girl today, you have no idea how bad it is.

    At least my own daughter, 4 years ago in 5th grade, recognized that these standardized tests were testing her teachers, not her; so she side-stepped that stressor. As angry as she makes me sometimes, I am so proud of her!

  • Beth

    We’re all at fault. I’m a parent and educator…and part of the problem! I heard myself in the movie. My high schooler is under an immense amount of pressure, much more than I ever was at her age. Pressure comes from so many sources… school districts trying to “pass the tests” and compete with neighboring communities, parents competing within the community, kids competing with each other, and yes, kids competing with themselves and expecting perfection in everything.
    Let’s think proactively- what can we do to “be the change” so desperately needed? It’s time to change the way education is delivered in this archaic system- incorporate more collaborative learning, problem solving, and community service…skills desperately needed in the 21st century; find a purpose for learning- authentic work is key; eliminate the massive amount of testing and assess students in a variety of ways; eliminate weighted grades and class rank… and tedious nonsensical homework assignments; integrate areas of study- English and history, science and math.
    I’m pleased to say our district is beginning to explore these options, but it’s not easy. It’s tough to fix something that might not be perceived as “broken” by the school community; tough to be at the forefront of the wave of educational innovation… but it’s definitely time for change!
    Thank you Vicki for bringing a much-needed conversation to all of us! I’ve seen the movie now three times- as a parent, teacher, and one who collaborated to bring the film to our community to help start this tough conversation. Those of you who haven’t seen the film definitely need to look for a screening in your area. Trust me- the children in the movie ARE our children struggling to be heard in today’s broken educational system. Let’s listen to our kids before it’s too late!

  • Ann Marie Joyce

    The elephant in the room in this discussion is that we have no regard for knowledge or learning except as a means to get into the right school and set off on the right career path-
    and make money-all the stress emanates from that perception that kids pick up from parents and society in general. If we really valued education and learning, teaching would be an esteemed profession as it is in many other cultures. Their salaries would reflect this and their would be a qualitative way to evaluate their effectivness instead of simply MCAT results.

  • Sophia

    How about looking at the Waldorf schools and implementing some of what they are doing into public schools? There are a few Waldorf charter schools out there.

  • Karen

    I went to a US graduate school in the late 1980s, I was in my early 30s. The subject was anatomy and there was a lot to memorize – not my strong suit. My fellow students were primarily physicians and scientists from China who came here in order to enter the US scientific pool. I was a free thinking, lateral thinker, used to solving complex problems and using rather sophisticated scientific instruments – something that was in great shortage in China. My colleagues blew me out of the water with their ability to memorize all the insertions of muscles into bone and tracks of nerves throughout the body but when it came to working in the lab (developing my thesis and designing experiments to prove it) I beat them hands down. They had no imagination, could only follow specific directions and protocols and when things broke down they had no clue about how to fix or jury rig to work around these types of problems… a lot of very expensive equipment bit the dust when they were around. I like to think we helped each other through these trials but I remember them being quite surprised with the way I thought.
    I am grateful to parents who allowed me to be a child, who encouraged me to ‘experiment’ with life and yes, taught me how to think. My parents were public school teachers. I may not have gotten the best grades but I like to think I am a good scientist and physician today.

  • Ben Palmer

    About 5 years ago, I heard the expression “data driven” for the first time at a school Central Office training session for teachers. We learned that our system was now “data driven” and that spreadsheets and data aggregation would guide what we did in the future. At that point, I decided to retire ASAP. The binary bunch was in control and evaluation of teachers and testing of students students was rising to a new (to me, unacceptable) level of importance. I pity the poor stressed out students AND teachers. If “Race to Nowhere” helps to focus on this destructive influence in our nation’s education system, it will have done a great service.

  • Mr. X

    This movie is so wrong about everything, that i’ll just list some points (some of which have already been mentioned):

    #1 I went to a very good high pressure high school in the 90s and I can tell you that the pressure comes from the parents. Not the school , not the teachers, not the “system”, not the colleges, its the parents. period.

    #2 Its very annoying to see these parents try to put the blame on someone else. If these parents are so concerned that the school system puts too much pressure on their kids, then they should move to a town with a crappy public school. But they will not do that because they bought a house in that expensive town to get access to the ultra-competitive school system. Now they are just mad that they have suddenly discovered they have just average kids but are stuck with an above-average tax bill to pay for the ultra-competitive school system.

    #3 As mentioned in other posts, this whole “stressed out kids” problem, only affects a small minority of mostly rich, white upper-middle class kids. I worry that policy makers will over react to the plight of this small minoroty and make public education less stressful (i.e. crappier) for everyone else just to make these whinny kids feel better.

    #4 These parents need to step up and act like grown-ups. If your kids is taking 6 APs classes and cant handle the workload, order them (you are the parents right?) to drop an AP class. If your kid has too many after school activities, stop driving them to some these activities.

    #5 I remember staying up late in high school doing homework. Yes sometimes until 2am. Sometimes it was because i had a lot of work, but a lot of times it was because I goofed around and only really started my homework at 10pm. Often after school, I watched TV, I played a lot of videos games, but in general I was just disorganized. Eventually, I got better organized and efficient about my school-work but that did not happen until college, because the workload was even more brutal. Kids naturally want to goof off. It takes time to learn to work efficiently and effectively. (Of course, some people never really learn how to work…) I suspect that many of these stessed out kids goof off (like I did) and then are upset that they have to stay up to finish their homework.

    #6 The reality is that *most* kids need to be pushed by their parents to do anything. They must be pushed or they wont do their school work (or chores around the house or say “please & thank you” ,etc..). Its just that simple. These kids that have a nervous breakdown have obviously overdosed on school ( or to use a sports analogy over-trained their brains). For this small minority of kids, the parents must actively slow the kids down. Again, thats part of your job as a parent if you have a child like this. Since my kids are like me; they like to goof off and play video games. So I push them hard to do their school work, otherwise nothing gets done.

    #7 This puzzles me. Why does it seem like more girls have this over-stress problem?

    #8 Look at the two BIOs of Vicki Abeles on her website.

    exhibit A:
    This is the touchy-feely BIO that talks about film and education issues.

    exhibit B:
    This is her real BIO that shows the world that she is hard charging corporate go-getter and high achiever.

    My conclusion from these BIOs is that she pushed her daughter to be a miniture version of herself. But when it went horrible wrong, she made a movie about it and blamed somebody else. She then made a new BIO that omitted her go-getter past so she could deflect blame.

  • http://shulmandesign.net Alan Shulman

    Ellen: Thanks for your comments. Geffe and I ARE certainly at a standoff. He likes to use words like “nonsense” and “childish” but I guess that’s the way it is.

    I DO believe that everyone is an artist. Not all of equal drafting ability for sure. Some have that magical gift of hand-eye coordination from the genes and aren’t they lucky. And some learn it through harder work. But as it turns out, ALMOST ANYONE can draw what he/she knows, sees, handles, experiences on a regular basis in a direct sensory way; the regular golfer can draw her clubs, the carpenter his tools. Is he/she a great artist? Perhaps not, but the knowledge the golfer and carpenter show come not just from the eyes but from how things feel and even how they feel about those things they can draw. And as educators we should never discourage that innate ability to draw what we know. And a mistake we can and do make as educators is telling children at an early age that their drawings, scribblings as Geffe might term them, do not measure up to some standard. They pick up on that message very quickly and soon have internalized that notion. And to what benefit? Because they can’t be Albrecht Durer?

    And while I have immense respect for Durer’s uncanny draftsmanship, I don’t value his work in the same way that I do that of Monet, Munch, Kandinsky, Goya, Daumier, El Greco, Brueghel, Van Gogh, Marsden, Davis, Hopper, DeChirico…none of whom were Durer’s equal as draftsman but all of whom I believe surpassed him as artist.

  • Kerri from California

    Thank you, On Point, for addressing such an important and enlightening topic! Such bright and thoughtful comments…and yes, our children are suffering dearly. Not only are they being robbed of their youth, but being taught (nope, taught is the wrong word) having rote information forced into their minds to perform on tests. As a parent and educator, I am appalled! We are seeing dire consequences of this system now, and it must stop! None of us wants our precious children to be statistics, and we can prevent it now! First of all, we must reevaluate our academic content standards. They are completely developmentally inappropriate and the quantity of material that students are required to master at each grade level is ludicrous! This is why there is not time for teachers to teach effective, meaningful lessons that foster critical thinking and lifelong learning skills. This is also why there is not time for other subjects (i.e. the arts, etc.) and no time to individualize education to meet the needs of all children. We can change! The “Race to Nowhere” message is a beginning for these wonderful conversations. Bring the documentary to your community. I am doing so in January. Let’s share ideas and make it happen. Our kids are counting on us! We cannot afford to let them down.

  • geffe

    Ellen Dibble think about what you are saying here.
    I think the “drawing on the right side of the brain” book tells us we are born with the ability to draw and it gets suppressed somehow about 2nd grade. You learn from your classmates that you are “supposed to” draw a tree like this.

    People are no more born with the ability to draw than they are to play the piano. Of course there are some who are born with amazing talents but these are few and far between. The majority of children draw the way they think they see things. If children are born able to draw like Raphael why is that they do not seem to able too?

    I have drawings I did before the second grade and they are not anywhere near the level of what I was doing at 15. Just as what I do now is on a higher level than I was at at 15. Give me break here, this is complete nonsense.

    I was merely commenting on a book that’s been used way too much to teach drawing and I have found that a lot of the material in it is kind of useless for observational drawing. All this left right stuff has nothing to do with it. Drawing from life is not the same as drawing from you imagination. Although the former can inform the latter. I use a lot of geometry. It’s a lot easier for a beginner to learn to draw straight lines than curved ones. If you are trying to draw a three dimensional object on a two dimensional plane it’s a lot easier for the mind to comprehend basic shapes and then find the more complex ones. This is pretty straight forward stuff and artist have been doing this for over 500 years.

  • http://cyberfumes.blogspot.com Dave Eger

    Performance enhancing drugs ruin any competition. Perhaps the solution is to make learning less competitive, and more collaborative.

    Also, I find all of the bad grammar in the comments here humorous.

  • geffe

    and while I have immense respect for Durer’s uncanny draftsmanship, I don’t value his work in the same way that I do that of Monet, Munch, Kandinsky, Goya, Daumier, El Greco, Brueghel, Van Gogh, Marsden, Davis, Hopper, DeChirico…none of whom were Durer’s equal as draftsman but all of whom I believe surpassed him as artist.

    That’s a personal opinion. I’m not talking about my personal taste in artist. I also think that not everyone is an artist anymore than everyone is an airline pilot.
    I’m sorry that is just silly to me. How can everyone be an “artist”? How? Just because one is doodling on a pad at work does not make one an “artist”.

    And a mistake we can and do make as educators is telling children at an early age that their drawings, scribblings as Geffe might term them, do not measure up to some standard. They pick up on that message very quickly and soon have internalized that notion. And to what benefit? Because they can’t be Albrecht Durer?

    First off I don’t teach small children. I’m dealing with college age people who have too learn to draw for the profession they want to get a job in. It’s extremely competitive and you know what I would be doing them real disservice in letting them all think they were wonderful. You mentioned carpenters, well would want to have a skilled carpenter build you a house or one that was just “feeling” his way with his/her tools. By the way the carpenter analogy is kind of absurd as they have to learn skills. I’m into teaching drawing skills, if the student is open enough to want to learn they will draw better. If not they wont. That part is up to them.

  • http://shulmandesign.net Alan Shulman

    Geffe: I’m going to beat this dead horse until it’s dust. I think you missed my point on the carpenter and the golfer. I was not referring to their professional skills or lack thereof but to their ability to draw what they really understand, really see, really feel – their tools of the trade so to speak – without specific art training. I suspect in the same way that the dentist or surgeon can draw his instruments, a plumber her fittings, the roadworker his shovel and jackhammer. I have seen this to be the case from folks who claim that they can’t draw a straight line – the standard disclaimer of those who do not believe in their own ability. We don’t typically look at faces or bodies in the same way. To the extent that you get your students to really look, I salute you. Maybe that’s the crux of the argument; you train people for a craft. But craft and art are not necessarily the same thing.

    Of course, those artists I list are an opinion. Some date from the Modernism period as you would have it, some from significantly before. But there was drawing well before the ideal of the Renaissance that was powerful and expressive, and even before the Greeks on whose artistic principles the Renaissance was based. Those artists are anonymous as are the artists of indigenous peoples yet their art has magic.

  • Joseph

    @Ruth Ryan. Excellent point about different populations being tested. When I was in graduate school I spent some time at universities in England and Germany. Talking to peers from those countries I learned that they had by the time they entered the equivalent of our high school been directed onto the secondary education path.

    @Tony. Well stated. It has become a mantra that “a college education is needed to get a good job.” This as if that piece of paper, the college degree, is what is the ticket to a middle class job. Wrong. It is what the degree supposedly represents, that being the advanced education and the ability to succeed at acquiring that education. The fact is not all students are intellectually capable to succeed in college. European countries have done a much better job at retaining a manufacturing base that provides well paying jobs for those who are not suited for higher education. They have done this by active government intervention in preventing “outsourcing.” Contrast this with the U.S. Where the government has been at best hands off and at worst a facilitator in shipping manufacturing jobs overseas. All supposedly justified by the contention that all these jobs can be replaced in the service sector.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Joseph says, “The fact is not all students are intellectually capable to succeed in college.”
    If education were, as posters here advocate, about learning to evaluate information rather than accumulate it (memorize; recreate answers according to pattern), then students bring what they bring, period.
    But people’s brains are plastic, and most especially so at a young age. Research has showed that a child is specifically reshaping the brain and how it functions when learning to read. That is one way we reshape our brains. There are others. Throughout school, a child can be learning to create a phenomenally functioning unit — but not by any passive education. That kind of achievement requires the kind of personal determination that can create for the body-builders a me-Tarzan body: constant targeted training.
    So if you give up and say, “All these children can be is what they come with,” then you’re refusing to even try to educate them. Passive education has its part, just as sleep has its part in a normal day. But it doesn’t help students become all they can be.
    I’d say students need the space to find their own passion, because nothing else will motivate adequately. But I also think students WANT to be skilled intellectually in some domain or other.
    But the point of extensive memorization would be priming the pumps, pointing out to students that they CAN take information on board. But one who reluctantly memorizes a Longfellow poem might very easily take on board incredible amounts on a pet subject without any prompting at all. Make sure that students have time and space and opportunity to find their intellectual passion. (Yes, Geffe and Alan, I think drawing/art can be an intellectual skill that absorbs time and attention, and creates a well-honed mind, part of which is apparent in the artwork itself, and a lot of which is apparent in the well-honed personality and consciousness that comes from that effort.)

  • geffe

    Alan go ahead beat it into the ground. I have plenty of real life proof that disputes your claim. I’m in a drawing class right now with a doctor and he knows anatomy but he can’t draw the figure that well at all. We have had some interesting discussions on this very subject. What you claim about golfers is kind of a red herring really.

    It has nothing to do with people learning how to draw.
    What people do is not really relevant in this context.
    I’ve had an electrician in my class and his experience in this field had no barring whatsoever on his abilities or how he drew. By the way he had trouble drawing a screw drive, go figure.

    I’m not talking about primitive art. I’m talking about teaching drawing, period. I see you put down craft, which is funny as you mentioned the Bauhaus which was very into craft and industrial design. For the record I don’t call myself an “artist” I consider myself a painter.

    One of the best drawing lessons I ever had was from a teacher who said that if we could not draw the model stand than how on earth could we expect to draw the figure.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Geffe, in my community the city art center has classes that “draw” on that “drawing on the right side of the brain” book and approach, and I took one class, one lesson, and then had to drop it. I figured the money was in a good cause. Maybe, maybe not. How to get “body language” into a stroke. Duh! But look at the people in the class. Some of them had the idea that drawing is copying what someone else has drawn, a sun as a circle with lines going out, for instance. Another class was more an introduction to materials. Anyway, I’ve taken various classes over time, mostly dropping out because I wasn’t getting anything out of it. On the other hand, when my mind is focused on creating this or that, and I’m in my own safe space, I can do just fine, which suggests to me that creativity is incompatible with classroom work. Skills can be taught, but creativity requires liberation. I would be a total klutz in a class (well, teachers in adult classes like to congratulate students in hopes of keeping them on board, but I can use my own judgment), but if there are no time constraints, and I have selected my own materials and subject, I have no trouble.
    I think drawing might be like language; we might have times and places where we are quite articulate, and other occasions where we are speechless. The fact we put words on paper (or computer screen) neatly expresses the link between visual and verbal communication/expression. Schools can undermine this by “grading” things as if the grade were the objective, not a means to an end, that being — well, a child needs to learn why you write incisively or draw with conviction.

  • Over It

    I think that the same parenting skills that are necessary for managing in an underperforming schools area also necessary to keep your child grounded when they are surrounded by overachievers. The commenters on your show seem to me a bit whiney and seem to be from a limited world view. The reality is that the world is more competitive. As a parent of two overachievers, it is important to provide guidance and reassurance. The bottom line is they have to work hard and do their best, whatever that is.

  • Signe Carey

    Maybe it is what society and parents are peddling that is so unrealistic and stressful for these kids. They know how expensive life is now and how much value society places on material success, advanced degrees, sports, beauty, and perfection. As parents, we need to make sure our children have realistic expectations about life and what to expect ahead of them. Most of them will not have NFL contracts, modeling contracts, CEO salaries and luxury homes. Or even PHD’s for that matter. Let’s try and keep it real for them by turning off the media as much as possible and talking to our kids about real life.

  • http://www.education.ucf.edu W. Scott Wise

    … central Florida.
    Thanks to NPR for the program. As always the topic was well treated. However … there is absolutely NOTHING new here. US public schooling has been, and always will be, driven by four (4) underlying principles that pull in different “directions”. The PUBLIC view is generally essentialist; a model of production. The PERSONAL view is generally humanistic; a model of self-actualization. Combine these views with those of the EQUITY (experientialism) and EXCELLENCE (traditionalism) and the discord can be better understood. Again … my undergraduate students were NOT surprised by this conversation. In fact, they were able to predict many of the responses by the guests and callers, because they understand educational philosophy and the underlying principles.
    Thanks again NPR. We’ll keep listening!

  • http://shulmandesign.net Alan Shulman

    I do not put down craft. I admire expert practitioners of same. I merely say that craft in itself does not necessarily make art, that is, something that is meaningful to us, that reveals aspects of life or culture of which we might not have been aware before the viewing; in other words, what the best art does.

    I did not imply that the golfer, my son-in-law in this case, could draw figures because he could draw golf clubs; merely that, if he put the same energy into figure drawing as he has into learning and appreciating golf over the course of decades, he would probably turn out something decent, at least as decent as the clubs he can draw quite reasonably.

    Our perspectives and experiences are different. So be it.

  • Marlee, Goleta CA

    I am torn in so many ways over this topic. As a mother of 2 school age children, I see the need for reevaluation of our school system.
    My daughter is very academically-inclined and very successful in school, although this often takes a toll on her. My son does not respond well to the fundamentalist approach of teaching and rarely wants to work inside the box. Luckily, his teacher is willing to work with us within the system to still make learning fun and successful for him. with both of my children, I see a greater response to the learning material when it is presented as a practical application for the real world. Perhaps our emphasis should not be on college, college, college, but on finding students’ true strengths and how they can turn those toward a successful career, be it continuing to college, a vocational school, or other means of employment.
    I feel that youth today is disengaged and somewhat apathetic. When I was in high school, I worked part-time, and in college, I worked full-time. In high school, I took AP classes and was involved in extra-curricular clubs and teams. I had a driver’s license at 16 and paid for my car, insurance, and spending money on my own. Most of the teens and college students I know do not have jobs, have their parents drive them where they want to go, and have little real world knowledge. Sometimes a little struggle creates an opportunity for great insight.
    Somehow, a balance between these scenarios needs to be achieved. Schools providing practical applications of curriculum, encouraging students to embrace their strengths and find their own autonomny that will lead them to a successful adult life.

  • http://worleygroup@yahoo.com C Worley

    I enjoyed your conversation regarding this topic and look forward to seeing the film. I found it ironic that one of your panelists is on staff at Stanford, an elite university accepting a mere 9% of applicants. The “most desired” universities and their expectations must be part of the discussion.

  • ageofaquarius

    I was born and educated with college degree in Taiwan, continued college in U.S. I hated Taiwan education, we called “stuff Turkey” style education. I couldn’t agree more with all the guests, especially Yong Zhao, who’s familiar with Chinese style education.

    Sure, American in general sometimes have too much ego. Now, being egotistic is different from being a individual free thinker. Encouraging free curious thinking, self challenge out of compassion, cultivate EQ are all needed in either western or eastern education. But by far, American education cultivated a lot more provocative and individual thinkers than Asians, whose score tests are higher only on paper. I was inspired by American’s education that encouraging students to be curious, and more well rounded. Asian are all too book smart, they cultivate “followers”, not leaders in innovation, philosophy and science.

    If we can bring both ends closer and mix them up a little, that would be a wonderful combinations.

    This is a great show with great topic. American, don’t lose your precious value of being liberated free thinkers and blindly follow the mindless race. Slow down and think through our value and how to win the race without running around like chickens without heads.

  • http://KWMU Paul Cider

    I am amazed that our system is so poor. Just 20-40 yrs. ago I thought that we were supposed to be one of the leading nations in the world. If that was true, why have those running this country allowed us to fall so far behind. I wonder how any kids in the last 5+ yrs. can be driven to achieve so much in school. When they graduate they will be lucky to find a job at a fast food restaurant or grocery store. What is the use in training kids anymore since all of the jobs have been sent out of our country & will not be back anytime soon, if at all. Years ago those in charge should have gone to china, etc… & studied & copied their system for teaching kids. Then we would not be so far behind.
    We could cut the military in half tomorrow & put hat money into education the next day. That would get things moving in the correct direction. Still would take 10-20 years for the change to really make a difference.

  • ageofaquarius

    Extreme competitions are demanded by extreme ambitions, should we all become the guinea pigs of extreme ambitions?

  • ageofaquarius

    Did anyone watch the NOVA show last night, “Hunting the Hidden Dimension”. This is a good example of innovation in Science and Philosophy. Think about our heartbeat, medical science always thought our heartbeat works like pendulum, but no. Our heartbeat looks like fractal architecture, they are actually very random, irregular. And the philosophy I came away from this show is how life work to adapt and survive. Irregularity becomes regular, and vise versa.

  • Joelle

    I am firmly convinced that our kids start performing academic studies TOO EARLY! We need to acknowledge that there are learning phases that children progress through (Piaget/Erickson) that are being ignored by our school system. The only way we are going to see creative, problem solving, passionate learners is to let children ‘play/explore’ at learning until they are 8 or 9 (or later).

  • MN in Nebraska

    I’m a little reluctant to believe someone who doesn’t have any education experience. This culture of high-stakes testing and achievement only really effects a very small percentage of students. The rest are for lack of a better description: Lazy and lack any concern about their grades or future.

    I would stop trying to blame the system and place the blame where it truly needs to be: On the students themselves, because until they learn educational autonomy, they will never be successful.

  • Tracy

    As a teacher for 10 years, I have seen foreign languages, home economics, and art classes disappear from my school. The student population at my school is behind the national & state test averages, so “elective” class time is now spent in remedial classes for many. In addition, each year that my school fails to meet AYP for NCLB, we stratgeize new plans to raise scores sometimes focusing on the bottom (Novice) sometimes the middle (Apprentice) in a desperate attempt to stay out of the auditors’ grip.
    Not only is this environment taking it’s toll on students, but good teachers as well who feel their creativity and passion for teaching being drained away by the never ending focus on test scores.
    -Tracy (Louisville, KY)

  • Prentiss

    Yeah…I’m gonna have to call shannagins on that.

    Kids are falling off because school is too easy, not too difficult. How can a kid be pressured when everything they do has built in make-up procedures?
    I teach senior English. These kids cannot write a four paragraph paper with out three weeks of time and an elaborate lesson. They cannot read, nor reason. These are the effects of standardized testing.

    Once education becomes a goal and a necessity instread of a right then you will see marked improvement in acheivement. Every child should have the right to attend school, but no one should have to crammed in an overcrowded classroom because 15% of the kids don’t care and distract the other students. When they screw up too much kick them out of school. Grades will shoot up, and ex students will return with a dose of the real world. I’m sure they will be grateful only be in class….

  • Joe Vondenhuevel

    Teachers- If you want your students to be engaged you have to find something engaging or spontaneous. Break out of your stale routine at times simply to get their attention. I once had a college professor do a dive roll across the front of the classroom because he had nearly 80 students falling asleep/not paying attention before his lecture ever started. Nearly all of us paid attention that lecture for the remaining 3 hours.

    I had written a very long response but decided this may actually help someone out there.

  • Brian Virgina

    Neoliberlism anyone?

  • jerome

    Not to be insensitive but simply believing a students suicide is the by product of school stress is both irresponsible and sensational. All I hear are parents ignoring their responsibilities and blaming the system. I would like to know what are their expectations and ambitions for their children – I doubt their honesty when they say they are happy with whatever their child accomplishes.

  • Lynn Tulumello

    I think that the school system changed a lot between the late 90′s and the new mellenium. I had a daughter who is now 28 that was given a decent education in school and was able to move on normally into college but my other daughter who came up in the 2000′s was entrenched in this mess that we are now reading about. My solution was to homeschool her for the high school years and it worked. She was able to go on to a 2 year college and now, because of her ability to solve problems and think creatively, she is a general manager of a store already at the age of 22 years old. Most of her peers that she went to school with are stressed out and on drugs and getting no place in life. Those are the kids who FINISHED high school and my daughter who never went is doing better. There are a few other people on this message board who have reported the same thing. Go figure.

  • Heather

    My 8 year old takes 6-7 tests every Friday afternoon. She has state standardized benchmarks in reading science, math and social studies every four weeks. She gets 15 minutes for recess and 25 minutes for lunch. She starts school at 8 and finishes at 3PM. Most working people have more breaks in their day. 50% or more of her teacher’s evealuations are based on the results of three days of MSA testing in March. To lead up to this the get rid of recess and specials and insert interventions for the 3-4 weeks prior to the test (even for above and on grade level kids). Race to the Top is the cause. In order for Maryland to get the money, they had to agree to 50% of evaluations for teachers and principals to be based on test scores, not year long productivity. They get 30 minutes a day for either SS or Science since they are not yet assessed on the tests they are very unimportant.
    As a public school proponent I wish I had the funds to send her to the private school around here; where kids get to actually engage in learning, science experiments, creative writing and more. However, as a middle class person, I can not afford 20K per kid, per year. I feel bad for my daughter as she some of her friends leave her school and get exposed to this oppurtunity that she cannot have due to the intense focus on tests. I cannot blame the teachers, if my evaluation was based on test scores of specific types of questions, I would push the same things. Our poor kids:(

  • Edmond J. O’Neill

    My son age 27 graduated from a good private university, and has only been able to work in low paying non-union construction jobs as a laborer since he graduated. To pay off his school loans and get more income so he can eventually afford to get married (as in “American dream”)he plans on enlisting in the service. He will likely be sent to Afghanistan, and become a statistic. But, hey look at the bright side. His school loans will be paid !

    Montgomery County PA

  • Kate

    College has become a commercial racket. How many millions of graduates from elite universities are without jobs? The same grads who are unemployed are also deeply in debt as a result of their expensive education. I graduated almost ten years ago from an expensive and competitive university, and went on to earn a [essentially worthless] graduate degree. As a young person, I was told that if I did well in school and attended a respectable college, my future would be bright. At the very least, there would be a “good” job waiting for me, and I’d have the chance to work hard at something that sparked my interest. The economy has only swirled deeper down into the toilet since my in the last decade and I’ve found myself feeling somewhat bitter and betrayed by those promises of a “good job” and “good life,” if only I was to bust my hump as a kid. To those young people who believe that earning A’s and getting accepted to Harvard equals a golden ticket, au contraire. This economy demands creativity, practicality, and resourcefulness–not an expensive degree in philosophy. As a society, we need to get real; we need to assign value to blue collar work and to BALANCE, overall. In this sad economy, those with a license to practice plumbing are in far better financial shape than many of my former cohorts. And plumbing, or any blue collar career, is just as respectable–if not more so–as being a lawyer or businessperson. It’s not what I was taught as a kid, but it’s what I’ve come to see.

  • Kirsten Rose

    I saw the film. I agree that the current national education system is a mess, and the priorities of a country that push educators and school systems to the brink of poverty are disgraceful. Demanding depth from a system that is forced to teach a mile wide and an inch deep is unrealistic to the point of delusion. However, this cannot take parents (me) off the hook for the focus on the total learning process – the initiative to encourage my kids to think more creatively and problem solve on their own (from very early ages), and to choose priorities. There has to be some balance between school work and recreational sports, and some limits placed on electronic distractions. I had to laugh in the film when one teen girl complained that she doesn’t have any time to just be a kid and go play in the street, yet when the film showed her in “down time” she was on the computer. How many of the kids were shown getting in a car on the way to school plugged into cell phones, I-Touch, or DSI? These are OUR kids, and if we want to have deeper thinkers it is our responsibility to foster that, encourage that, and demonstrate that ourselves. Own up, man up, show up, stop blaming others for what is our own job. Then volunteer, show up at school board meetings, PTA meetings, class conferences, and talk to your kids. Maybe look at our own grown up lives and see where we are leading them…

  • Alison

    As a tax payer, I want my district to be tough. I’m not sending my tax dollars to Albany so that students can get an “easy” A. We are significantly behind other industrialized countries. It does no one any good to gloss over this fact and try to “complain” it away. If we continue to accept this as the norm, then it will definitely be “Racing to Nowhere”. It’s incumbent upon the parents to regulate their child’s activity outside the classroom: limit the texting, facebook and take away the keys to the car. Let the school’s do what we pay them to do, teach!

    • Steph

      As a tax payer you should realize your money goes into a school system that values test scores over actual learning. As a high school student I was under extreme stress to perform which made me physically sick throughout my junior year. My AP classes made me hate school, which is sad because I love learning. I don’t love regurgitating information so I can pass a test to get into the “best” colleges and then forget the information afterwards. I am not asking for an “easy A”, I am asking for a school environment where learning is enjoyable. Challenge my critical thinking and writing skills. Interest me in politics and science. Help me discover my talents and passions. I (like other high achieving kids) want to learn and make a difference in the world. Give us the tools to do so instead of making us jump through hoops like standardized and AP testing. You say “let the teachers teach”, but what you don’t realize is that they only teach us information relevant to the tests we will be taking because their jobs depend on how well we do. ALL of my AP teachers taught us exactly what would be on the AP tests. I want teachers to teach too, but I want them to teach a passion for their subject, not test material. As for parents controlling their kid’s lives, I do believe that boundaries have to be set, but you should realize that social experiences are a crucial part of kid’s lives too. It is not realistic for parents to expect kids to only focus on school. Kids need outlets for stress, and also for creative freedom. I hope that you can realize the truth this movie speaks, and that our education system spits out depressed kids like me who once loved to learn.

  • Jane

    I’m a junior in college and this sounds a lot like what my high school experience was like. My younger brother was unwilling to play the game in order to succeed and dropped out. What I found was that school was not about learning anything and that the most successful students figured out how to do the assignments with the least effort possible. I did badly because I refused to cheat or compromise and the work load was such that it was almost impossible to manage without cutting corners. Because of this, I decided early on that school was irrelevant to me. I think my brother thought the same thing.

    This concerns me because we had trouble because we both love learning and are too principled to cheat. We are lucky to be brilliant and to have an intellectual family that compensated for the void that is the education system. There are a lot of kids who have a lot to offer and want to succeed who don’t have that kind of support. As for the problem of kids checking out, who wouldn’t? When you feel like a cog in the machine, it reminds you that you’re human.

  • Tyler


    Our entire education system is flawed.
    When you were a baby growing up, how many times were you given a test?
    Yet babies a the most fantastic learners, ever.
    People aren’t meant to learn by memorization and testing.

  • Zarine Eleanor

    Grades play to much of a role in everything… to many kids use the wrong things to cope… for example in one of my classes the kid who sits next to me resorts to drugs as an escape (his parents have no idea), the kid in front of me has become a compulsive cheater, the boy sitting next to me only passes because he has all of his sisters materials from the same class the year before, the kid kitty corner from me pays for a tutor… and i resort to caffeine to stay up all night to do homework in order to take drivers ed and be a varsity athlete. Then when asked to explain concepts not a single on of us can, clearly something is wrong, very, very wrong.  So ten years from now… one of us will be in prison for possession, one will be kicked out for cheating, one will be lost in his class because he used his sisters stuff, one will relay on tutors and not use ingenuity to solve problems and i will be a nervous wreck… what can i do to change this, as a student who watches firsthand what happens to kids? nothing, at my school the vast majority of students have no say in school policies.  Maybe four students out of the 2 thousand even get to voice their ideas… somebody who will be heard needs to help us before we all end up on the streets with no knowledge and addiction problems, or even dead by our own hands….
     I just finished my french homework after a night of drivers education, school and trying to find to wrap gifts for my friends as tomorrow is the last day before break… it is 11:37 pm and my alarm is set to go off at 5:25… something is wrong… i will end up with about five hours of sleep and tomorrow i will be practicing my driving on the streets in the dark after a full day of school. So why might i be taking drivers ed right now? well because it is the only time i have between cross country and track. I am a sophomore in high school and i stay up until around 11:30 at least and get up around 5:30 i go to school, run, and do my homework and try to participate in as many extra “resume building” activities as i can… i realize that i am part of the “Race,” but i don’t know how to escape. Some of you may have read the other part of this post and therefor know how some of the people i know escape/cope (drugs, cutting themselves, cheating, caffeine, tutors and even physically running away. They are just as stuck as me… but now because the race was overwhelming they have ruined their chances for the future because their grades have slipped. But, if you look under the Administrators category on this website, it would appear that my school is perfect or at least it should be… but, in the end committees and “facts” on paper hide the truth… they don’t show all the people who slip though the cracks or the kids that are creative enough to get away with coming to school high and not getting caught, the kids that are able to cheat on every chemistry test and never once have the teacher suspect something is wrong, the kids who come to school and fall asleep, the kids who come to school carrying mountain dew at 7 in the morning, or the boy who is depressed because he can only see a future of meaningless grades and a meaningless job, the teachers and the administrators are oblivious to the student who walks around with the physical burden of books causing them to hunch over and the mental burden of feeling lost in the work causing them to look sick. I can name a person who represents each scenario, and that is only a fraction of the problems some of my friends have had.  So as i sit her sleep deprived and nervous for driving tomorrow i ask how can a school that looks good on paper be so oblivious and harmful in reality? PLEASE HELP US! please, someone, anyone tell the principle that behind every set of eyes is a mental breakdown waiting to happen because of the stress, regardless of the smiles we all wear as masks because we are too scared and stupid not to laugh when faced with actually trying to solve the problem…

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Kate, as to your disillusionment with college, I’m wondering if the more elite colleges in the United States are using models that were devised pre-World-War II, before the GI bill enabled a far larger proportion to become educated. I’m thinking that if say one in 25 had a college degree, clearly many, many of the skills that are required to keep our economy ticking have to be acquired OUTSIDE of academia. What could college offer that life-experience (older workers as trainers) do not? Two things. One: Gratuitous knowledge (perspectives and approaches not necessary for day-to-day life — because if they were necessary they would be taught in public school). And two: “connections.” By this I mean the network of graduates whose relationships can be counted on to help bring in funding in perpetuity for the college, and who can create an “in-group,” that can cross-pollinate and define the American elite.
    I do say “gratuitous” tongue-in-cheek. Ask a college professor how he or she thinks his particular subject will serve as a structural support in a student’s life. Ask an educated American what part of his or her education served as a structural support, as it turned out.
    As to the “cultivation of an elite,” once college education became the expected norm, post-World-War II, of pretty much everyone, that appeared more immoral than desirable.
    It comes down simply to what are the needed skills, and how are they transmitted; the green-ivy institutions that transmit what they transmit as if life were meant to be lived on a plantation: Not so relevant. Not so worth busting your butt when you should be learning how to be the human being you are. Not so worth going into debt, or getting your parents into debt, for the next decade — or so.

  • Julie

    We’re all to quick to blame schools for this. Most of this kind of pressure comes from parents. We’ve read and seen lots of information about parents who enroll their children in too many extra-curricular activities starting at age 5 or earlier. We live in a society where kids are given toys whenever they want them and so many of our toys don’t require thinking or imaginative play. Schools are part of the equation, testing may be part of the equation, but really there is a huge piece in the parenting of our kids. I have a child in Kindergarten and another in 2nd grade. Its amazing to see how insecure and competitive parents are about their kids whether its on the soccer sidelines or at school functions. Parents need to let kids be kids…make them play in the back yard with nothing but dirt, sticks and a few toys to create. Encourage kids to be do art. Too many parents are quick to fill their kids with activities and things to do that they forget that some of the best childhood activities are created by kids after they complain they are bored…and they figure out how to use their imaginations to fill their time or god forbid they grab a book.

  • Phyu-Sin t.

    @ Dina from Middlebury, VT

    The reason that this “madness” has gotten a lot of attention is not because educators (teachers, professors, lecturers, speakers, etc) are not doing their job. They’re doing the superb job at following the set education system! The problem is in education itself, the way knowledge is taught. I am currently a senior in high school and as much as I love knowledge and learning, I absolutely hate school. In fact, school makes me hate learning. The only time I actually really love learning is when I am reading in peace and quiet – when I am completely stressless. I lvoe my classes in school because they’re interesting, but who can blame me for wanting more sleep as an overstressed teenager? I wake up at 5:45 every morning to catch a 6:35 bus to school and with all the after school activities and a job, my day never ends. Oh, and top of that, homework? I’m just glad to say, one more semester and I’m in college where I can hopefully get out of this public education system.

    Cookie cutter education is not for everyone.

  • janice m wongsurawat

    I was surprised that the better test scores in other countries were cited, while the culture or state of social development in those other countries wasn’t considered.

    How can you consider a school system apart from the society that controls it?

    Americans should look at the strengths and problems in their own society in order to improve their school system, rather than simply looking at test scores from China or the Middle East.

  • http://www.stanford.edu Dr. Marcie Zinn

    I did not read all of the comments above as I should, so I may introduce redundancy here.

    This movement exists in parallel to the “schools are failing our children” one. The paradox created by the two movements is enormous.

    I personally am thrilled that this movement exists now. I thought it may not come for years.

    Looking at the mental health of our children will raises numerous issues and I know the scientific community will step up to the plate. I believe that now it will happen.

  • Em

    I thank the makers of this documentary so much for finally noticing.
    Speaking from firsthand experience as a high school honors student, I’ve witnessed and felt the effects of the competitive high school “pressure cooker”. Sadly, I know kids who have become so wrapped up in the competitive mindset that they have become depressed, anorexic, and even self harming or suicidal. It’s true, and despite what some may say, this is killing us. I am very interested in this documentary because it is really exposing a problem that many adults chose to ignore. The American media is so fixated on comparing American students to those of other nations such as China or Japan, and constantly portrays our education as inadequate and in need of “conforming to a fast-paced world”. This is disgusting to me. I can honestly say I was happy before I forced myself to do 6 hours of homework a night, refused to sleep until that paper was done… I’ve been to the school psychologist several times with mental break downs. Before high school, I was excited to work hard and perhaps work towards medical school. Now, I hate the thought of having to work anymore after countless hours of doing sports,practicing flute, and doing 5 hours worth of AP physics on top of three other AP class work. I have a 20 page paper due in three days. Sometimes I think that suicide would be a way to escape this. After all, everyone I’ve talked to says it only gets worse. Why bother competing anymore when it will never be good enough?

    • Steph

      I understand exactly what you are going through. In high school I did year round sports, piled on the community service, took 4 AP classes my junior and senior year, and stressed myself out until I was physically sick. I hated school which was terrible because I do love to learn. AP Physics especially killed all joy there was in learning. I hated the system but I felt I couldn’t get out of it because I needed those grades for college. I felt depressed but I couldn’t talk to anyone about it because I was supposed to be able to handle it. While I did my college applications I secretly thought I didn’t want to go if it was just going to be four more years of taxing stress. But I went through it all and now I am almost done with my freshman year of college at UCLA. I want you to know that my first year of college was way less stressful than high school, so please don’t get too discouraged. I know it sucks but things WILL get better. Just remember when you get to college pick a major that you truely enjoy and are interested in. I made the mistake of trying to be pre-med because it is a “good route” but it only continued the stress I had in high school. Stick to your talents and find your passion. My outlook on life has improved so much now that I decided to do what I want to instead of trying to keep up with everyone else. (My friend who is pre-med because she truely wants to be a doctor and is good at math and science is doing well too, that route just wasn’t for me). I just want you to know that it does get better and college is better than high school.

  • Patricia Shanny

    I believe our current society is a mess, and schools just a snapshot of what is going on everywhere. No one segment should take all the blame. Parents need to be what they what their kids to be; don’t just tell them, show them. Teach by action, as well as word, to be respectful, responsible, caring, honest, and fair. And, perhaps above all, let them be kids, imaginative kids playing with what’s at hand, making up their own stories, and outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air. Parents are teachers every minute of every day.

  • WA listener

    I’m afraid the message of this movie just doesn’t ring true to me. I agree with the caller who suggested that this is a problem in a relatively small number of elite suburban schools. Most public high schools in this country have far too little and far too low expectations for their students. I think the problem this movie is describing is a problem parents could opt out of by telling their son/daughter “No, you cannot take 5 AP classes. That’s too much for you to handle.” Unfortunately a lot of students in low performing schools don’t have a way to opt out.

  • Sa

    The research is in on homework; more than 10 mins per grade level is not productive.  Giving kids more than an hour of hw in middle school and more than two hours in high school is counter productive.  The mandatory extra activities mandated at many schools today are just added pressure on an already stressed population.  There is a lot of research on the health consequences of living with too much stress. The amount of kids on antidepressants these days is staggering.  Parents and teacher really need to do their research before becoming part of the problem. Parents and educators need to be responsible and base their opinions on facts, not what they would hope or wish is true. 

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Apr 18, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a nationally televised question-and-answer session in Moscow on Thursday, April 17, 2014. President Vladimir Putin has urged an end to the blockade of Moldova’s separatist province of Trans-Dniester. Trans-Dniester, located in eastern part of Moldova on border with Ukraine, has run its own affairs without international recognition since a 1992 war. Russian troops are stationed there.  (AP)

Deadly clashes in Eastern Ukraine. A white supremacist rocks Kansas City. The Marathon bombing anniversary. And Bloomberg on guns. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Apr 18, 2014
This undated photo provided by NASA on April 2, 2014 shows Saturn's moon Enceladus. The "tiger stripes" are long fractures from which water vapor jets are emitted. Scientists have uncovered a vast ocean beneath the icy surface of the moon, they announced Thursday, April 3, 2014. Italian and American researchers made the discovery using Cassini, a NASA-European spacecraft still exploring Saturn and its rings 17 years after its launch from Cape Canaveral. (AP)

Oceans in Space. The new discovery on a moon of Saturn, and the possibility of life there.

Apr 18, 2014
This undated photo provided by NASA on April 2, 2014 shows Saturn's moon Enceladus. The "tiger stripes" are long fractures from which water vapor jets are emitted. Scientists have uncovered a vast ocean beneath the icy surface of the moon, they announced Thursday, April 3, 2014. Italian and American researchers made the discovery using Cassini, a NASA-European spacecraft still exploring Saturn and its rings 17 years after its launch from Cape Canaveral. (AP)

Oceans in Space. The new discovery on a moon of Saturn, and the possibility of life there.

Apr 18, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a nationally televised question-and-answer session in Moscow on Thursday, April 17, 2014. President Vladimir Putin has urged an end to the blockade of Moldova’s separatist province of Trans-Dniester. Trans-Dniester, located in eastern part of Moldova on border with Ukraine, has run its own affairs without international recognition since a 1992 war. Russian troops are stationed there.  (AP)

Deadly clashes in Eastern Ukraine. A white supremacist rocks Kansas City. The Marathon bombing anniversary. And Bloomberg on guns. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

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