Are Our Children in a “Race to Nowhere” Through the Education System?
posted by: Susan Wells
A few months ago, the mom taxi was running strong. One of us had at least one thing to do every single night of the week. Trying to schedule a play date or just take a breath was next to impossible.
I decided I was running my family into the ground. We were all headed for burnout. Gymnastics, Girl Scouts, sports, music, dance…it was all looped in a never-ending schedule.
I realized it was time to find a way to actually breathe. Our schedule needed to breathe. We needed to breathe. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded, but things have improved. Each child can only commit to two activities. We are still running three days a week, but it’s not insane.
When is enough, enough? When do our children have enough enrichment activities along with schoolwork, homework and play time?
Yes play time.
A new documentary, Race to Nowhere, has made me stop and think about how I am preparing my children for life after high school.
It makes the statement that we are spreading our children too thin. We want them to be well rounded, and enriched, so we sign them up for music lessons, sports, community service, dance, and more. We send them the message that they need to learn all of this to succeed. Success is not playing in the backyard; it’s learning the piano or making the touchdown.
I’m not saying all of the lessons and activities are bad, but are we putting extra pressure on our children and eliminating passion while we run from one activity to another, to get home and complete homework, and then collapse into bed? Even with our reduced schedule, I still feel like I’m running. Time to just sit and play a board game is hard to come by.
The movie says parents are focused more on homework and sometimes that is the first or only question we ask after school – Do you have homework? How much? What grade did you get on your spelling test? We mean well, but we are putting an enormous emphasis on achievement and success. We are sending the message that good grades equal success. Earning a certain grade will lead to the best school, which will lead to the best job and the best salary which will lead to happiness.
What is your definition of “smart?” Our society defines it as a straight-A student with high test scores, who plays sports and a musical instrument, holds leadership positions and in high school, holds a job. Not all kids fit this definition of “smart” and feel left behind or not good enough. The pressure to earn the “smart” title is immense. Many of students deal with high stress, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
In the movie, educators, students and parents say high school is only preparing kids for college applications and prep tests. If a test includes questions that the teacher did not cover in a review session, the students are unable to answer. Students are programmed to follow directions and memorize facts for a test. They are not taught to problem solve or think creatively.
When these students reach college, they are not prepared. Universities are reporting high remediation rates for freshmen who graduated from high school with high grade point averages and test scores.
I recently participated in a Twitter party about the summer lag. Do students slide in their education over the summer? Should we be concerned? Are we too focused on raising their education to not allow them to truly enjoy the lazy days of summer? Parents struggle with allowing their children time to play freely but also stay engaged over the summer.
I’m hoping I have found a balance and have my daughters signed up for a summer school-type camp where they will swim, play, read, craft, camp, bike and hike three days a week. I am questioning whether this is the right choice or if it is too much or not enough to keep them going.
I definitely don’t have the answers to these questions. I try my best (as we all do) to be the best parent to my children and raise them to have ambition, drive, love, passion, compassion and empathy. I’m not alone in wanting them to find their own definition of success and happiness. The hard part is helping them grow up and find their way – not an easy task for any of us. I encourage you to go to a screening of Race to Nowhere. Check their website for showings.
What are your thoughts in the education system? On homework? Overscheduling? Under scheduling? Free play? How do we prepare our children for life after high school?
Susan Wells is a native Colorado mom to two girls, ages 5 and 9. She loves to find the learning in everything. In past lives, Susan has been a symphony bassist, sound engineer, news web producer and web developer. She currently works for Steve Spangler Science in web marketing, social media and blogging.