Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Competing Contrast

Last night I went to see "Race to Nowhere".  I highly recommend it. Yes, it's another documentary about our troubled school systems, but this one was made by a mother, not an Academy Award winning director. The focus is on the stress engendered by a system that is more about competing and test-taking than it is about understanding and learning. The consequences on kids range from depression to drop-out to suicide. One line from the movie that sums it up comes from a student who, after she passed her AP French test, said, "Good. Now I never have to speak French again." Another sentiment that captures the film's major gripe was that high school has become more about the college application than college.

I asked my high school senior to come along so I could get her take on the film.  She clapped long and hard at the end and was in major agreement with the film. She thought the movie could have spent more time on college guidance counselors as the pressure point for all this. That is somewhat autobiographical for her--she chose not to take Art instead of AP History against her counselor's advice that she needed the AP class to get into a top tier school. My daughter wants to be a pastry chef and has already been accepted to her school of choice.

On the way home we turned on the radio to hear the precise part of the State of the Union address when the President was discussing education. He was touting his administration's Race to the Top initiative, which the movie's title subtly mocks. He talked about being in competition with the rest of the world. He talked about the importance of high performance (which in the movie doesn't necessarily correlate with high learning...the students call it "doing school"). My daughter chuckled.

2 comments:

Garnet said...

Interesting thoughts. Different things work for different kids. When I was in school, it was the competition and the thrill of doing well on a test that kept me studying. When I was 10 or 11 years old the school I was in experimented with a 'non-graded' system, where students worked at their own pace. I didn't do very well with that.

Michael J. Corso, Ph.D. said...

Garnet, I totally agree. Competition motivates some students and stresses out others. We need to find what works for each student. That starts by asking them.