As Cassie Larson, VP of academic affairs for the Gordon College Student Association, welcomed students, parents, teachers and community members to the Macdonald Auditorium in the Ken Olsen Science Center, she reminded them to spread the word of the film through social media. “Tweet, text, update your Facebook status,” she said, “The filmmakers want us to spread the word through our communities.” The audience quickly settled in to watch the documentary.
85 minutes long, Race to Nowhere is a documentary by parent Vicki Abeles, who was troubled by the stress and pressure her children faced in their schoolwork. When a teenager in Abeles’ community took her own life, Abeles decided to start traveling and observe schools and students across the country. The documentary features interviews with professors in education departments, clinical psychologists, teachers and students themselves. In the spirit of other recently released education documentaries, such as Waiting for Superman, The Lottery, and Teached, Race to Nowhere hopes to raise awareness of the toll children face from high pressure, heavy workload and a performance based culture.
What is unique about Race to Nowhere, however, is that it tackles the issue primarily on the levels of the individual student, rather than nationwide policy. While it touches on the 1983 A Nation at Risk or the 2002 No Child Left Behind Acts, the film is largely concerned with how kids respond to these increased pressures, and whether or not our achievement and performance culture has robbed kids, starting in middle school, of their childhood.
A panel discussion followed the film, featuring Janis Flint-Ferguson, professor of education; Jim Trent, professor of social work; Val Buchanan, director of the Office of Community Engagement; Jan Holton, dean of student care and director of counseling; and Hilary Sherratt, a current Gordon student. In responding to the film, Trent said, “I think of Thomas Jefferson’s vision of education… that education is for the purpose of raising good citizens. I wonder, what has happened to that?”
Sherratt added, “I think one of the most important things is to communicate with our parents and teachers, with our communities, about what it’s like to live in this culture.”
But the panelists suggested that there was a unique opportunity in this moment to start a conversation about the achievement culture and about the need to look beyond the status quo for a new look at education in the United States. “I’m excited,” Flint-Ferguson said to nods in the audience. “We can be both transmitters of culture and re-creators of culture.”
As the audience departed, the murmurs continued. The conversation begins.
Story by Gordon student Hillary Sherratt '12, a Pike Scholar from Rowley, Mass, and student writer for the Office of College Communications.