Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Race to Nowhere

Having heard about the documentary film, Race to Nowhere, first from an article in the paper and then from a client, I was ecstatic to learn that Newton North High School was showing the film this past month. My son, Alex, and I cleared our calendars so we could attend the screening. I was very glad we did!

Produced by Vicky Abeles, using the words and experiences of students across the country, their teachers, administrators, parents and other professionals who serve them, the film paints a very accurate and sad portrait of what education is like in our culture today. With all the pressure to build a resume to be successful in the job market, starting in preschool, students are overloaded with homework, pressured to take top level classes and get straight A's, while also excelling in extracurriculars, sports, and even more, lacking time for eating, sleeping, thinking or learning.

This silent epidemic touches all school-aged kids and young adults, from pre-K through graduate school, leads to stress-related illness at younger and younger ages, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, suicide, apathy and a mechanized, robotic approach to personhood. Because of the pressures to look good and have "everything together," on the outside, countless students suffer in silence, under the radar, until a crisis hits where things crumble from the inside out.

The ultimate prize is success, as defined by our materially addicted culture, measured by how much money you have, how big a house you live in, and how fancy a car you drive. Happiness, health and humanity are left out of the equation entirely. As one student in the film commented, "Success in America is defined by how much money you make, not by how happy you are."

And with inhumane pressures that could cause even the strongest person to eventually crumble, students are learning to take shortcuts, like cheating and taking drugs, which will ultimately lead to their collapse or the collapse of the systems that depend on them. Sadly, we have countless examples of the adult version of this behavior, with Bernie Madoff as the poster child of cheating and its costs, including the life of his son.

One of the students in the Newton North auditorium commented after the film, we have a system that is creating an economically and emotionally depressed America. Something has to change, or our race to nowhere will be the lemmings' suicidal race off the cliff. Are we frogs in the proverbial pot of boiling water or have we already died emotionally, spiritually and practically? Can we leap out of the water and keep other frogs out of the pot? Can we find a way to get grounded and keep frogs in frogponds and people in human environments? Do we need to revision and re-engineer these more healthy and natural environments, because we are so used to the boiling water, that we don't even remember how it should be?

This provocative film is a call to action, including getting together and talking with one another face to face. The film is only shown in small community settings, like the high school, rather than being distributed through the commercial film market. The purpose is to engage dialogue and thought, rather than passive viewing in our isolated lives.

I hope more and more people see the film, and join together to get to the root of the systemic issues. Our survival is at stake. As they say, our children are our future. And if we don't take action, we will lose them and our future.

Copyright 2011 Linda Marks

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