Just over a week ago, 350 people people attended the Saline High School screening of the documentary Race to Nowhere. Though the discussion lasted a mere one hour on a Thursday night, the conversation that it sparked is continuing in classrooms throughout the high school. This is wonderful to see not only because the screening was the result of months of hard work on the part of many high school students, but also because it says something about the issues raised by the film.
When STRIVE (Students Re-Investing in a Valuable Education) first made the decision to host a screening, the choice was between two vastly different documentaries on education – Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere. Though both documentaries have played a vital role in shaping the discourse surrounding education reform, the consensus among students was that Race to Nowhere would resonate with Saline students. And resonate it did.
The film, combined with the stories told that night by students, brought to light the kind of issues facing our high school and high schools throughout the country – the anxiety surrounding standardized testing, the stress of AP classes, and the overall pressure of college admissions. For some students, the pressure results in high achievement, while for others it results in issues like anxiety and depression. Though no one present on Thursday night advocated for the complete elimination of homework or AP classes or extra-curriculars, it was made clear that something must be done to address the stress associated with these activities.
Out of the discussion on how to address these issues came a myriad of questions. For instance, should schools limit the number of AP classes students can take? What should homework look like and how many hours of homework should a student have every night? How should we approach standardized testing? Should the practice times of sports teams be more closely regulated? And one of the biggest questions of all: How do we best prepare students for success, while at the same time making sure they don't get “burned out”?
Addressing these questions and more is going to take time and it's going to a take commitment on the part of all of those involved in education – parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, and students. As we move forward in this discussion, it is important to remember that it's not about “taking it easy” on students. It's not about creating an atmosphere of low achievement and laziness. It's about reducing stress so that students come to school healthy and ready to learn. And when discussing education reform, you would be hard-pressed to find anything more important than that.