“What does it take to produce a happy, motivated, creative human being?” This is the tag line at the end of the trailer for a new film titled, “Race To Nowhere” about the consequences of our high pressure, stress-filled school culture. This film was screened this evening at the 92nd St. Y here in New York, and a few of the NYCHEA members attended. I was not able to go (had a date with my husband and we went to see “The Social Network” also known as the Facebook movie) but am eager to hear what my fellow fringe parents have to say about it. The trailer, which you can view on YouTube, shows kids talking about dealing with the pressures of too much homework, keeping their grades up and never being able to just go out and play. Teachers and administrators are shown saying that something has to change; that education in this country needs to be overhauled so that we don’t produce an entire generation of people who can only follow a script and not think for themselves.
Is it too late for this generation? Has the damage already been done?
The good thing is that people are amazing, and even kids who’ve been beaten down by the system will often rise up and do wonderful things, if given the opportunity. Even if that opportunity does not come until they are adults. But of course we as a culture would be much better off if we could hit the pause button and change things. The school system is a huge machine – like the computer in 2001 a Space Odyssey it almost has a mind of its’ own. Stopping it or tearing it down will not be easy. The change will not come from the government or the school boards or administrations. It will need to start from the students and families themselves. Taking kids out of school and homeschooling/unschooling is one route. If enough people did it (2 million already are) then someone would sit up and take notice. If John Gatto’s Bartleby Project took hold in numbers it would certainly have an effect. (In case you don’t know, the Bartleby Project is an initiative created by Mr. Gatto to undermine standardized testing. Rather than take the exams, students would simply write “I prefer not to take your test” on the cover of the test booklet. If one student did this, they could be failed. If an entire grade did it, the school would have a challenge on its’ hands. If the trend caught on and spread, standardized testing would be finished.) And once the first domino falls, the rest just might follow.
I have an answer to the tag line question in the “Race to Nowhere” trailer. What does it take to maintain a happy, motivated and creative human being? I changed the word ‘produce’ in that sentence, because I think all people are creative and motivated to learn. Schools beat that out of them. So we don’t need to ‘produce’ anything. We simply need to maintain and nourish what is naturally there.
What does it take? It takes freedom. Freedom to learn at one’s own pace. Freedom to follow one’s own interests. Freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Freedom to fail, and fail again. Freedom from compulsory schooling or any schooling based on a factory model. It also takes integration. Integration of children into life. It is detrimental to separate kids from their families and their communities for 7-8 hours every day and then further segregate them by age and perceived ability. It takes a complete destruction of ‘standardized’ learning which is really equivalent to bringing everyone to the lowest common denominator. It takes courage to trust kids to learn with little or no interference, which they do anyway with things they enjoy. It’s only the things they don’t enjoy which require coercion, and since coercion doesn’t work, why even go through those motions?
I look forward to seeing “Race to Nowhere”. It sounds much more interesting than “Waiting for Superman” because I think it may address the underlying, unspoken problems of a system broken beyond repair. Whether or not anyone has the guts to provide and implement the answers on a broad scale remains to be seen.