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Race to Nowhere (film)

Books + Ideas, — March 2011

A few weeks ago Camilla and I went to a screening of Race to Nowhere, a documentary about the United States school system and the insane pressure it places on students to get into college.

It places blame mostly on the government, on No Child Left Behind and other programs that mandate quantitative measurements of school performance, but largely avoids attributing blame to parents, even though parents are a major source of pressure on students, both directly and through the pressure they place on schools. (That might have been tricky given the climax of the documentary is a specific suicide.)

It seems to me that one obvious solution is to abolish "grade point averages" that are calculated throughout a student's time in school. When I went to school, there was one final exam (the New South Wales Higher School Certificate) which decided university entrance, and nothing before that mattered. This meant that it was perfectly possible for students to do badly for almost all their time in school and suffer no adverse consequences if they then worked hard in the final two years. And acceptance into university was relatively easy, except for those students who wanted to study medicine (and to a lesser extent law). This is helped by the Australian university system lacking the steep status hierarchy of the US or the UK (the "Group of 8" would like to pretend they are Oxbridge or the Ivy League, but they're not).

One startling figure from the film was that about half the students starting at the University of California (a prestigious state university) have to do remedial classes in English or mathematics, presumably because the cramming they did to get accepted failed to actually teach them anything. It seems to me that this part of the problem, and a good deal of the problems in schools, could be fixed by universities setting their own entrance exams and orienting them to testing actual knowledge rather than rote-learning.

Race to Nowhere also helped me understand why home-schooling is so popular in the United States.

I've been reading about the history of Education in Britain and may write more about education.


  1. I have this to add on the point of parents placing undue pressure on their children to perform. Never did I nor my wife intervene in our children's choice of subjects in high school or courses of study at university. It is all laissez faire. Sometimes, I feel a little nudge may not be a bad thing.

    Take my second daughter who attained a BA without any trouble but no marketable skill. She found herself running on the spot for a few years, and getting nowhere fast. She had to go back for a vocational masters, studying right through the summer recess to play a catch-up game. As she is living away from home, her Austudy allowance can't even cover the high Sydney rent. She is doing it tough, as well as owing the government a hefty amount in tuition fee.

    The following link is just one of dozens of articles on a tiger mother's assertion on bringing up and educating children. I must have missed something.


    Comment by DL — March 2011
  2. The current "progressive" models used in education are ineffective to prepare students to become resolutionaries as adults. The approaches are based on divisive paradigms..... Even the "multiple intelligences" hype.

    The solution is an entirely new system that is triadigmically configured.
    It will have assessing the will to learn as a key factor.
    It is a Synergistic Intelligence model that utilizes ethnic cultural tools to reach the DNA in all students....awakening the will to learn. And one of it's powerful tools is a Dream Learning process to improve student attitude.... and help them tune into specific subjects through focused synthesized prep.
    Interpretive keys and qualitative content is what's relevant to a students unfolding future.
    Education should stop insulting youth! Details: http://www.educationwizard.org.

    Comment by Tom McCormack — March 2011

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