Education Documentaries: Check the Research
By Patte Barth
A new buzz-worthy film documentary casts a harsh spotlight on public education as told through the emotional stories of anxious students and their parents. Nope, it’s not “Waiting for Superman.” That was last year’s buzz-worthy education documentary. “Superman” blames public schools and policymakers for expecting too little for urban students, leaving them unprepared for the future.
This new film is called “Race to Nowhere.” It blames schools and policymakers for creating a generation of stressed students, leaving them unprepared for their future. The similarity to “Superman” stops here. “Nowhere” alleges that the problem is that we expect too much of our young people. Students are doing too much homework, taking too many Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and competing for too few seats in competitive colleges. The result, according to the film’s press materials, is nothing less than “unhealthy, disengaged, unprepared and stressed-out youth.”
The power in these films stems from their real-life stories. These young people deserve our sympathy and our effort to improve their situations. At the same time, we need to be very careful about the conclusions we draw from these stories, and the public policies we call for in response.
The message of “Race to Nowhere” has struck a nerve in a lot of communities. It doesn’t have a major film distributor, being shown instead through locally organized screenings across the country, many in schools. Its website reports that already more than 2,000 such screenings have taken place, enough to attract coverage in major media outlets. It also has prompted countless conversations at PTA meetings, book clubs, grocery stores, and swimming pools across America.
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