Sunday, March 27, 2011

Race To Nowhere

Greetings everyone! My tendency is to get obsessed with things and then let them slide. This blog may be no exception. I love it, but it's time consuming. Somehow, time has become a precious commodity. There never seems to be enough of it. However, I have a new obsession bubbling over, so I figure I'll take the time to blog about it.

I just saw the movie "Race to Nowhere." It's a documentary about "the dark side of our high performance culture." I'll sum up my reaction to it in three words...color me rattled. What this movie shows is how we push our kids into too many activities, how our schools (elementary, high school and college) stress and burn out our kids with too much homework and too high an emphasis on test scores with a lack of regard for personal development, healthy relaxation and creativity. Of course government is in on the action. Schools' funding is dependent on achieving high test scores forcing teachers to focus on "teaching to the test," pushing aside creative thinking and teaching our kids to work in groups which are skills that are used in the real world. The "top colleges" demand a transcript full of AP courses, high standardized test scores and a full resume of extra curricular activities. This looks great on paper but the reality of it is ugly. The workload associated with AP courses is overwhelming (and the "regular" courses aren't exactly a free ride either). These kids are spending six hours in school and then come home to 3-4 hours of homework. I don't know of an activity that is less than an hour and a half round trip with most being longer, so that's the cherry on top of the workload. It's not uncommon for kids to be up until the early hours of the a.m. to get it all done. This is what the "good schools" say you need to be doing to get in. Of course, if you don't go to a "good school" you'll never get a "good job" and make lots of money so it all filters down. Now, I'm not placing the sole blame on colleges. It's a really complicated problem that spans from government, to schools on all levels, right down to individuals. Good luck finding a solution that satisfies all of these parties.

What bothered me the most about all of this is how as parents we've just accepted this and also use it as the standard of achievement. It's hard not to. I feel like we are besieged with the message that if we don't push our kids to get the homework done, get the high test scores and participate in the activities that they're not going to be successful. We want to give our kids every advantage, but are we really? I have yet to meet a parent that says "I just love all of the running around we do." Everyone I know is saying, "This is nuts," but no one does anything to change it. Why? I have to believe that it's out of fear that if we don't participate, our kids will not only not be successful, but they're going to be left out. Most of us roll with the majority and what our friends are doing.

So here's the deal. It's not realistic for me to go stomping capitol hill and campaigning for changes in the government, but it is realistic for my husband and I to get a hold on what's going on in our house. After all, it's not my kids who are filling out the forms and sending in the checks for these activities. We do have a choice. I'm going to ask myself what are they really getting out of these activities? I suspect if I did some research, most three year olds don't even have the mental capacity to engage in "team sports" so I think I'll ditch the organized t-ball for playing in the back yard. There's two hours of my life I just got back. If I want it to be more social, I'll invite a friend over. Just because we've seen footage of Tiger Woods having a monster golf swing at age three doesn't mean this is the path we all have to go down for success. And P.S. I'm not sure it worked out so well for him either. Maybe we should ask the question if elementary football really requires a four night a week commitment. Do we really have to spend our weekends traveling with our ten year olds for soccer and baseball? If your kids love it and you love it - great. Knock yourself out. However, most parents don't love it. It's a strain. Statistically, the majority of these kids who start at such a young age aren't even going to play through college let alone go pro. So doing it in the name of their success really doesn't add up. Meanwhile everyone is run ragged. At my house we're good with homework now, but if my kids start sacrificing their sleep and are doing it at the expense of everything else, it's time to have a chit chat with the folks at school. As for developing a stellar transcript for college, there has to be a correlation of what's on that paper to real life. Enron looked okay on paper too...for a while. Trust that the reality will always make itself known. If our kids are stressed, depressed and exhausted, that transcript is no measure of success.

Grant you, an hour and a half documentary should not be the soul source of an opinion, but let me tell you, it was a real eye opener. It's hard to see a problem when it's so big and we're all so entrenched in it. It's really worthwhile to go see this film. To check out the website and find a screening click here. It made me realize that I shouldn't just accept what is generally accepted especially when my gut is telling me that it's all too much. Be sure to go to the research section. I'm only a mommy blogger pontificating on a movie, but some pretty big brains have researched this stuff. We just have to get our heads wrapped around it and be brave enough to make some changes. Again, maybe some of you out there really thrive in this environment but I think the majority of us feel that we're fighting to keep our head above water. It's time to take the reigns.

Here's to choices that are right for you and a bright future!

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