While surely not the norm in American education
today, the daunting, competitive, and stressful world in which some affluent U.S.
students live is still worthy of attention—and a movie. Race to Nowhere, a new film by mother-come-documentarian Vicki
Abbels explores the negative effects of the high-stakes, highly competitive
world of middle-to-upper class families. It argues that, when students begin to
over-prioritize GPAs and college applications, learning becomes an
afterthought, not the primary focus of education. This is a common meme—see
books from the same genre, such as Pressured
Parents, Stressed out Kids and Doing School.
But Vicki Abbels, the film’s director, deserves credit for including some oft
overlooked subgroups of American students. Along with the affluent, she
connects with a few high schoolers from lower-income families, pressured by
their parents to win college scholarships or to be the first in the family to
attend post-secondary school. This grassroots documentary has caused quite a
stir in well-to-do communities and surely adds to the current debates on A.P.
restructuring, “Chinese parents,”
and the American education system writ large. Unfortunately, while Abbels and
her team do well framing the issue—creating overworked, sleep-deprived,
college-application-obsessed kids is no good—her proposed solutions disappoint.
In fact, she offers but one, simple and inadequate: Assign less homework.
Vicki Abbels, director, “Race to Nowhere,” (Lafayette, CA: Reel
Link Films, 2010).