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  Race to Nowhere
Piper Underwood | Rimini Road

 

Photo: http://www.racetonowhere.com

 

About a month ago, I peeked my head into my boys’ room to make sure they were still breathing and that their covers were doing what covers are supposed to do—actually covering them. It was 9:30 p.m.

I was surprised to find my oldest son not only awake, but in tears. When I asked what was the matter, he mumbled that he hadn’t passed his timed multiplication test, and that he was still on his 4s. He went on to say that some of his friends were already on their 9s, and that as they moved ahead, they would feel less pressure, and advance more quickly. He sniveled that as he fell behind, he would feel more pressure come test time, ultimately creating a growing divide between himself and his peers.

He is 9 years old and in the 3rd grade.

I thought, here’s a kid who grasps a pretty advanced theoretical and even mathematical concept, and he is devastated that he didn’t pass his 4s? I tried to explain that it was just a matter of practicing and memorizing, and that doing well on this type of test had very little to do with thinking or being smart.

The next night, I went to see the documentary film, The Race to Nowhere by Vicki Abeles, which was screening at Del Mar Hills Academy. The film discusses the pitfalls of our performance driven society, particularly as it relates to our children. It asks whether we are robbing our children of a childhood filled with exploration and wonder in favor of children who perform well on tests.

In the film, children, parents, psychologists and educators weigh in on their experience with our system of educating our youth. The film shows students who are completely overwhelmed, some with 5-6 hours of homework a night. And yet, parents continue to push their children with the hope that their child will get into a “good school .” The film questions if these expectations are healthy for our children, or even realistic. It seems we are unfamiliar with the bell curve. (Or, unwilling to acknowledge it.)

Is the added homework and stress of preparing for tests, which require good performance, but not necessarily critical thinking, best for our children? Are they any smarter, or better prepared to solve problems out in the world? The Dean of the School of Education at Stanford says that up to a point, homework doesn’t translate into higher test scores.

So what are we doing?

One educator said we are creating a culture of performers who are acknowledged and rewarded based on how they do on tests and in sports. We’ve even created a system of external rewards for their performance. He said kids are rarely judged on whether they’re a good kid or a creative kid or a thoughtful kid.

The film concludes that we aren’t creating a future filled with problem-solvers who can think on their feet, but rather a culture of kids who learn what’s necessary to get by on their exams. The focus isn’t on learning, but achieving. One teacher pointed out that we are killing the inherent curiosity that naturally exists in our children. I say, “ditto” to that.


 
 

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