On Tuesday night, close to 300 people attended a screening of the Race to Nowhere documentary hosted by Alexandria (Va.) City Public Schools, the Alexandria PTA Council, and ASCD. Probably more remarkable than all these hardy souls venturing out on a very wintry night to view the film was the fact that they stayed for more than an hour after the screening to start a discussion.
The film reveals an issue that has widespread effect on our children's health, growth, and learning: In many communities, we have reached a saturation point in the amount of work, study, and practice our students can do and the amount of content knowledge they can absorb, understand, and make useful in their lives. And, as was stated by ASCD Executive Director and CEO Gene Carter in his welcome address, "In many cases this saturation point is being reached by our children before they enter their teenage years."
One of the key reasons ASCD became interested in the film—besides its support of a whole child approach to education—was the film's producers' determination to have the film catalyze conversation and, in particular, community conversation. We started this community conversation in Alexandria Tuesday night. It was a dialogue that involved parents, students, teachers, administrators, many Whole Child Partner organizations, local PTA, and local school board members. We were also fortunate to have not only Carter, ACPS Superintendent Morton Sherman, and Alexandria PTA Council President Karen McManis in attendance, but also the film's producer and director, Vicki Abeles, the film's educational consultant, Sara Truebridge, and our local Congressman and whole child supporter Jim Moran.
The conversation began last night, but we want the conversation to continue. To this end, we are posting many of the comments made last night in response to a series of questions we posed. From here, we want the conversation to continue—at a minimum—online.
Question 1: Is stress and overscheduling a problem?
- Many kids exhibit a pressure to be perfect.
- Many kids feel the pressure to cheat.
- A sudent in kindergarten expressed stress that he didn't do well on a quiz.
- Why are we proposing an extended school day?
- Proposing a longer day does not mean we are proposing more work or more homework.
- A longer day can provide greater time to think and discuss.
- The issue is what we do with the time.
- We need greater emphasis on physical education, individualized instruction, and study time.
- We need to connect kids with counselors.
- We need increased attention on how we interact with each other and the children.
Question 2: What currently works to alleviate stress, or what would help to alleviate stress?
- Our children need to be outside and play in the fresh air.
- We need to teach our children how to solve problems through negotiation.
- We as adults don't do a good job with conflict resolution or negotiating, and our children look to us to learn how to manage stress.
- Some of us don't know how to relieve our own stress!
- We tell students to sit down, shut up, etc., but they are in school ALL DAY long.
- We say teach, teach, teach: but we have to model what we want for our children.
- I appreciate the film tapping into the early education piece—tapping into the entire child.
Question 3: Should we focus most attention on reducing the stress involved with schooling (proactive) or increasing avenues to deal with stress (reactive)?
- We have to start modeling the behavior we want our children to have.
- I didn't see the issue of cyber bullying highlighted, but that's a huge stressor.
- This is a time to consider how to help the entire child by having more time in the day.
- We can do things with the time; make better use of the time we have (e.g., kids sit for 30 minutes in the morning in the gym while kids in other countries do yoga or physical activity).
- Kids need to valued for what they are good at; forcing every kid down the same path is just wrong.
- Why don't we test for multiple intelligences? How do we move in that direction?
- Most of the progressive, so-called high-performing nations (Singapore, South Korea, Finland) are approaching the focus on learning entirely different than the United States. They are moving away from where we are headed.
- Schools are reflections of what their communities expect.
- It's not just the responsibility of the school; it's also of the responsibility of communities they serve.
- School plays a vitally important role in providing the appropriate learning experience for each student.
- School is only responsible for a segment of the learning experiment.
- ASCD is focused on learning, not schooling.
- If a child is not doing well, he or she deserves the opportunity to be reassessed (don't say "retested").
- Our education system is upside down, and it won't change from the top down.
- The U.S. Constitution [indicates the rights to] life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: school is rarely about the third.
- We need a greater emphasis on the first five years of life.
- The desire for change needs to come from communities, communities such as Alexandria.
The following questions were not asked last night due to time but are posted here to elicit responses.
Question 4: Are there things that we could focus on in each family, classroom, or school?
Question 5: Are there things we could focus on at a local, state, and national level?
Read the questions. Read the responses. Submit your comments. Continue the conversation.