'The Race to Nowhere' Screened by Members of School Community

Documentary suggests that students of all ages are stressed beyond their breaking points by pressure to achieve. Severna Park counselors weigh-in on the topic.

The push to prepare our children for higher education and college admission could mean that stress rather than learning is the primary product of our educational system.

Student: “Why do I need to learn this?”

Teacher: “Because it will be on the test.”

So goes the dialogue as grades rather than learning become the goal of education.  Teachers feel compelled to “teach to the test” while kids focus on doing whatever it takes to look good on a college application.
The documentary film “The Race to Nowhere” was screened by 150 educators, parents and students Friday night at Anne Arundel Community College.  The film is advertised as revealing “the dark side of America’s achievement culture” and suggests that students of all ages are stressed beyond their breaking points by pressure to achieve.  The badge of achievement has become a high GPA and a busy schedule.  Happiness is secondary. 

Kids feel pressure because they want to make their parents proud, their teachers happy and get into college. Multiple AP classes, three to six hours of homework each night, sports and outside activities have replaced childhood - and important developmental tasks and family life.

 The stress results in negative symptoms and behaviors: physical illness, lack of sleep, eating disorders, risky behaviors, depression and anxiety, and even suicide.  School counselors are seeing more and more students in their offices suffering from stress-related concerns according to Bonnie Habicht, guidance counselor at

Some teachers feel stuck as their motivation for and love of teaching is compromised by the larger demand for student achievement on standardized tests.  Many believe their jobs are on the line.  Parents are implicated as well because they want the best for their kids, and want them to get into “the best” schools.  And so they push.  At the same time, parents are dismayed as they watch their kids become overwhelmed. 

How do our local communities respond?  An AACC professor pointed out that “the best schools” should include the community college whose classes are comparatively small with excellent educators.  A parent (and the film) rejected the notion that all students should be placed in cookie cutter images as though all students are the same.  

Unique skills, giftedness in music and other aspects of the arts, and creativity are equally valuable indicators of a successful individual. 
Nick Silvestri, resource school psychologist at Anne Arundel County Public Schools indicates that teaching resiliency and coping in the face of academic rigor is paramount for our students.  Their website offers helpful resources.  

STAR program emphasizes resilience in its offerings ( April 8-11).  Clergy in The Severna Park Area Ministry Group recently named youth and the evidence of stress in their lives as an area of focus in their cooperative community outreach.

Through awareness and dialogue like this we, as a community, may be empowered to facilitate change where necessary.  

Comments and discussion are a welcome response to this concern.  How do you respond?     

Nancy Lincoln Reynolds April 07, 2011 at 10:53 AM
Leslie, thank you. Your feelings are shared by many parents. And the reality is that, yes, a greater number of AP classes historically improve both school ratings and college admissions. However, as you indicate, at what cost to a student's well-being. I am hoping to see this addressed in the coming months as community organizations plan for seminars and other programming to take a look at our youth and their stresses. We all try to offer our kids the best of our experience and of available opportunities. We also are the only ones who know our children well enough to see what commitments and schedules are doing to them. All kids are not the same and need to be dealt with uniquely. You are the best evaluator of that. Interestingly enough, there is beginning to be a shift in college admissions wherein the "busy, overly committed student" is not as desirable as one who has a single passion and does it well while maintaining a good (not necessarily over the top) academic record.
Lori Smith April 07, 2011 at 04:32 PM
I attended Race to Nowhere. I have a 6th grader at SPMS & a 2nd grader at a Montessori (where my 6th grader was until this year). The movie really churned up a lot of thoughts - I really identified with some of those kids. It made me more conscious about how and what I ask my 6th grader as well as making me very grateful that my children were able to attend Montessori where they don't believe in 'homework' & do strongly focus on encouraging the child to love to learn no matter what their learning style. I've already started talking with my 12 yo about what is worth stressing over, what is not and how we can deal with it as a family as well as reminding him of all the adults in his life he can talk to other than us. My children have also played Green Hornets sports since they were 4 because it seems around here if you don't start that young, it's harder to get in later. Neither of them are going to be professional athletes, but we've felt it important to do sports as something healthy for your body and something fun to do and also because there are often no kids on the block to play with afterschool because many are at daycare, scheduled activities or doing homework. After the movie, I did take a look at their schedules to see if they were doing too much. My son can handle many things, but my daughter not so much. Different kids - different needs. I also wanted to be sure that there was enough time to just 'be kids' - unscheduled, imaginative and free play time.
Nancy Lincoln Reynolds April 07, 2011 at 08:44 PM
Lori, you are absolutely correct. "Different kids have different needs." This means that parents must be vigilant about the gifts, interests and limitations of our children and help them sort through choices of activities accordingly. My fear is that we are setting up a system that suggests that there is an "ideal" kid and that all kids can be that ideal. It's just not so...and how boring the world would be if it were.
Lori Smith April 16, 2011 at 03:09 PM
Is there any chance there will be another showing in the Severna Park / Annapolis area? I have a number of friends who are now sorry they missed the showing. I myself only really went on a whim not having heard much advertising for it. Are the public schools not in favor of this movie? Or would they be willing to help promote a viewing?
Nancy Lincoln Reynolds April 16, 2011 at 03:33 PM
Lori, we have been asked that by several people. I do not know the "date" that it will be released nationally...or what format that will take. However, I think there are enough people interested in seeing it again that we may try to show it again this summer. My contact with the public school system has been very helpful as they are equally concerned about the stress and pressure issues revealed in the film. I will keep everyone posted as they and we continue to review the concerns. This is not an issue that will "fall by the wayside."


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »