Few subjects ignite parents’ passion like the achievement status of their children. Wanting the best for our offspring? Guilty, as charged. And the path to the American Dream is paved with diplomas and degrees, right? The better the school, the happier our kids will be, right? Apparently not. While built on good intentions, achievement aspirations over the last few generations have grown into a frenzied need to succeed. So maybe it was inevitable that we’d cross the line in prioritizing academic success.
No parent or educator sets out to stress kids to the point of cheating, depression, or worse. As a parent, my mantra has always been “happy, healthy, happy, healthy, happy, healthy.” But I confess to being brought pretty close to frustrated tears any time my son came home with a grade that didn’t measure up to his potential (sometimes it’s hard to distinguish ‘tears’ from ‘yelling’ at our house). Never mind that a stroll through my own academic past would reveal a thesaurus full of different ways to say “not living up to potential.” The point is that we may be going too far in our desire to give our kids every chance to succeed.
As with many communities around the country, we’re fortunate to live in an area with great schools, dedicated teachers, and loving, well-intentioned parents. So what’s going wrong? In Race to Nowhere, mother-turned-filmmaker Vicki Abeles gives voice to the epidemic of stressed and depressed teens who are showing up at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired. We’ve been teaching them how to pass tests and perform but not how to learn conceptually and think critically.
“As a mother, I experienced the stress firsthand and realized that no one was talking about it,” says Vicki Abeles. “I saw kids who were anxious, depressed, physically ill, checking out, abusing drugs and, worst case, attempting suicide. I felt compelled to speak out about this crisis by making a film and giving voice to the students, teachers, and parents. I wanted to expose a deeper truth about our education system. We are graduating a generation of robo-students, unable to think and work independently, creatively and collaboratively.”
Thanks to the interest and support of the Riverside Elementary School PTO and a small group of volunteers, the Princeton community will screen RACE TO NOWHERE at Princeton High School on Nov 15th at 7:30 pm, with a discussion facilitated by Nic Voge, a Riverside parent and associate director of the Princeton University McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. Tickets are $15 at door – proceeds to benefit www.fund101.org and www.pefnj.org
“We think the message of this film is critical for everyone who is raising, teaching, and working with kids today. I think RACE TO NOWHERE is the beginning of a conversation that we can’t afford not to have,” said event organizer Jess Deutsch. “The essence of childhood and our kids’ well-being- these really hang in the balance.” Organizers seek to fill the 750 seat Performing Arts Center at PHS with parents, teachers, coaches, mental health and health professionals, and all who share an interest in the future of this generation.
The hope is that across the country, communities will come together to develop positive, practical, educationally-sound strategies that will give us happy, creative, and productive kids. And that, like Martha Stewart says, is “a good thing” (oops… is it wrong that I’m quoting the world’s most popular overachiever in an argument against overachievement?).
**ADDED: tickets are selling fast. You can get them ahead of time for $10 via this link: http://rtnprincetonu.eventbrite.com/
Cary Sullivan is a freelance writer, editorial consultant, and community volunteer. She enjoyed a variety of editorial roles during her 25 years in corporate publishing, and holds a degree in Creative Writing from Florida State University. She moved to Hopewell from New York City with her husband and son nine years ago.