Last Thursday night we hosted a screening of the new film, Race to Nowhere, and a panel afterwards.  I have already shared my own reactions to the film; here I want to share those of our panelists and from our students.

Michelle Berry, Ph.D, History Department Chair, St. Gregory

There is a critique in the film that the educational system is reactionary, comparing us to other countries, like: we are not doing as well as Finland.  I think that one of the things we need to do is figure out what we want education to be. What is the point of education?  I heard the “H word” a lot,  happy– what does it mean to be happy?   That is the point of education: to get students excited about what they are learning even if means working at home.

I am not sure why in this film why reading seems to be such a really  rough thing which nobody wants to do: that they’d rather do skateboarding than reading.

This is partly because we  made it homework instead of home-fun.

That in fact learning itself and the opportunity to do that might be  a real privilege and honor and exciting in and of itself  if you are able to take learning and apply to your real life and do creative things with it, rather than if you are memorizing something that someone who tells you to memorize it and spit it back out in the precise way we want you to spit it back out– that is not going to inspire anyone, teachers included: I hate teaching that way.

The answer is of course we want creativity, we want enthusiasm, we want students to access information, make sense of it, analyze it, share it with one another, work in a team to figure out how to best to solve problem– that is what it is really all about.

Barry Bedrick, Headmaster, St. Michael’s Parish Day School, Tucson, AZ:

I thought the film nailed it, in a lot of ways; these are things we’ve been talking about in education for years.  Interestingly enough, many of the schools created in the sixties and seventies were created in reaction to similar issues and similar controversies.  Sometimes we look at education as a cyclical process, and it seems to me we are coming around again.

Ann Eve Pedersen, Parent, Founder and Board President, Arizona Education Network

We really have an ideological debate going on right now which is being waged.

Parents do feel this stress; I have a ten year old son and we were really lucky to send him to a play-based preschool. I hear now about academic preschool and I think, what’s an academic preschool, I mean that is crazy.  But we all feel this pressure to send them to the right preschool so they can be on the path to the right college.

I think it is really hard for us in this competitive culture we live in to remember to let our children to be who they are and not force them to be.

Dr. George Davis, Geology Professor, former Provost, University of Arizona, former President, University of Vermont.

I spent a lot of time as I watched the the movie just thinking about my parents and the freedoms they provided me with: I think I will conclude I became provost because I spent a lot of time playing, and having fun, and running in the woods and, of all things,  being allowed with my slightly older brother being allowed to explore on our own what is now considered to be the largest cave in all of Penn, a huge thing, we’d go there routinely and try to find the entrance and go under:  that sort of exploration was somehow permitted by my parents.

I just loved everything Dr. Madeleine Levine said: she talked about learner centered learning; individuals in the classroom; she talked about how there is no one right college or university to go to.

I was struck by the omissions, and I am puzzled by them: there was not one comment by anyone, of any admiration or indebtedness to a teacher or a coach– not one, how does that happen? Not one.

Eve Rifkin, Principal of City High School

I think the thing about the film that kept striking me that there were all these choices that people were making and yet they were seeing these choices as condition of reality.

She kept using these passive phrases, like the kids are so over-scheduled, as if someone is scheduling her children.

Let’s start saying no to the definition that great teaching and learning that only equals a test score or only equals the percentage of kids going to a great school.

The film is a call to arms, and perhaps can lead to Harvard redefining what great teaching and learning is.

There is no shortage of work to be done: I really like the spirit of having a dialogue about this.

St. Gregory student Hattie G. comments:

I know I am an oddball: I love school, I have always loved school.

If you don’t let kids just be them, if you don’t let them have that creativity, by just driving them to the grade, to the good grades, only to get to the best colleges,  that doesn’t do any good for anyone, not just for the kid: for their parents, for people around them, for their society in general.

I am lucky to have my mother as my mother; she doesn’t expect me to get straight A’s, she expects me to do what I can, what I am able to do.

I am comparing this film to Brave New World because I really think it is a type of conditioning, if kids grow up in that type of situation they are going to think there is no way out. It is up to everyone, the kids and the adults, to change this.

St. Gregory student Olivia L. asks questions; great responses from the panel.