The Race To Somewhere

Last night, I was invited to a free screening of the documentary “Race to Nowhere” at Brooklyn College. The room was packed. The sound was terrible, but I got the gist.

The point being made by the film’s creators is that our education system has become a mill for screening, evaluating and testing. Not educating. It has resulted in creating an inordinate amount of stress on our children, to the point where the whole concept of childhood, has been lost, chewed up and disposed of. The staggering statistics that portrayed the problems of suicide and cheating should be an alarm clock in itself. What has replaced this natural process is a blind movement toward a goal, which has no real world relevance. These concerns are expressed on celluloid by teachers, students, parents, and so-so pundits. Everyone was very good at identifying the problem. Very little time was spent addressing the solution.

When the public education system is described in any real terms to me, what it’s actual affects on children are, my only response is to bull-doze the whole thing. Tear down the wall. But I sense the film maker’s reticence to really criticizing what is causing the problem. No one wants to give our public approach to education a well deserved kick in the balls.

It is clear from some of the reports from the mouths of babes that: there is no down time. There is too much homework. They need to go to tutors which takes away more personal time. There is an apparent absence of any semblance of childhood. There is no space where one can just stare into the void, dream, or doodle.

We need to rethink what this society considers important. —quoted from a student

My criticism of the film comes from the feeling that it does not go far enough. I had two boys with me and they just acted as if this was not their problem. And it isn’t. Because they are involved in the process of curing this disease. They are students of a Free School.

I found it surprising that the film makers did not venture to speak to any of the many schools around this country who are engaged in the solution. The one school they chose to talk to was the Blue School. Founded by the members of the Blue Man Group, the Blue School promotes creativity in education. Here is a brief segment of their mission: In building our program, we want to remove the kinds of educational practices that we believe are not working so well and amp up the “best practices” and innovations that we believe have great promise. We want to draw from powerful influences, old and new, and recombine these influences with cutting-edge research and a few of our own flourishes to create something the world has never seen. And we want to have a good time doing it.

It is all good. But the problem I see right off the bat is that the only school profiled as a solution to this monumental problem, can only be afforded by the upper class. The mere fact that I did not see a brown skinned face amongst their student body, signaled to me that this was not for everyone. The Blue School represents some very good principles, but I do not feel that they relate to the larger picture. The picture where we move forward as a country, and really address the problems that face the future adults in the making.

There are many grassroots efforts and individuals who are actively working to form an approach to educating that will serve a wider spectrum. The Village Free School in Portland, The Free School in Albany, the many Sudbury Schools. There is John Taylor Gatto, Matt Hearn, Chris Mercogliano, Jerry Mintz from AERO and others whom I would have loved to hear from in this film. There was no word from the home-schooled or unschooled.

We have a huge problem in this country. We are continuing to waste the single greatest resource in the world: our children. And if the only industries we are interested in feeding are the ones that happened already, then we are in very grave danger. We need to take back our lives from corporate interests. The profit motive is not the only worthy cause in the world. Whatever happened to the common good. The future that is portrayed to us daily, has never happened. The world that is to be, is a complete unknown. What we have is an environmental, economic and human disaster. And our children as I have said so many times on this blog, are the ones who will occupy it, and the future innovators who will solve it.

The Bush era “leave no child behind” in truth left everyone behind in favor of a small percentage of people who hold the money. Money in itself is an illusion, but that is a bigger discussion. We need to realize that ALL children are important. We do not need more prisons, we need functioning communities, where everyone is free to learn. And learning evidently happens without institutions. On the contrary, as evidenced in the school, the top innovators of the last few decades did not attend or graduate college (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Janice Fields COO of McDonalds.)

It is beginning to occur to me that maybe we need to make our own film. One that speaks to the whole spectrum of inequality and repression we have set loose on our children. They have been sacrificed for some false notion that the world of the rich is the only one worth striving for.

Strike the entire system. Reevaluate everything. Start again, but listen to voice of those who have experienced going against the system, and the many incredible results that have been seen in children from rich and poor households. As the film showed, going to another school does not solve the problem, if when the child gets there, they are still stressed, evaluated and tested. The suicide and cheating rates indicate that we are just wasting time. And time is merciless if it is wasted. We are in a serious place in history, and through education, a great many of our problems can be abated. But first the stupid, the hypocritical and the self centered need to be removed from the throne. We need to remove the roof so that the children can once again gaze at the sky.

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