Last night, a friend and I went to a screening of a documentary film by Vicki Abeles titled “Race To Nowhere”. The film was launched last February and received a lot of media attention but because it was not showing in a “theater near you”, it has taken awhile for it to get the attention of the audience who needs to see this film, we the parents. In a nut shell, the film looks behind some of the educational and personal dynamics in our world that produces a bunch of overworked, empty students who seem to have lost their sense of curiosity and there ability to learn for the sake of learning vs memorize for the sake of a grade. A grade that can help them compete for very few seats in very prestigiously named academic institutions.
As parents, we are told by high school counsellors time and time again, that great schools for higher education are plentiful and not to get caught up in the academic school name game. We hear this but somehow we get sucked into the vortex and make decisions that will “position” our children for one of those prestigious seats. Have we really done them any favors in the process? I remember conversations I had with parents back in middle school who were already jockeying their kids to be in the right school programs with the right set of after school activities. Sports, music, community work, tutors and the list goes on. Scheduling and accounting for every free minute until dinner time and leaving time in the evenings for homework. Oh what a life! Or is it just an existence? Some of us seem to have forgotten to teach our kids how to live, how to have fun or simply just being. Giving them time for self discovery and getting comfortable in their skin. Giving them space to be them.
The film does look into what happens at high school and how universities look at and nurture this unfolding dilemma. It doesn’t however look at the role and personal decisions parents make while “molding” their children. After school activities are choices we make. Yes, some would say that the requirements to get into great schools demand it but we still get to set the tone. Do kids really need to busy all the time? Do they really benefit from all of the activities to better “round” them off? Are they really kept busy to stay out of trouble? What is at the root of all of this scheduled and planned time? I think its real important that we ask ourselves these questions.
We can’t change our educational system overnight and thank God advocates are out there educating and working towards a better more meaningful educational system. Creating an awareness for all and more particular, a self awareness for we the parents. I am guilty and have fallen into the “does she have the right CV” trap at times and have struggled with balancing my daughter’s time between her extra curricular passions vs the “that would look great on an college application” activity. At the end of the day, she decided and she taught us what was right for her. It wasn’t easy to let her lead but in the end, I think she will end up with a great education somewhere and remain a balanced person with a lot to look forward to. She has been blessed with some great teachers, those who taught and peaked her curiosities. We the parents need to confront and understand our motivations and we need to support and celebrate who our kids are, not who we want them to be. Have a look at the CNN video below for more perspective.