Documentary Film "Race To Nowhere" Sparks Discussion, Calls For Action (With Video)

More Than 500 People From Madison And Surrounding Towns Attend Showing Of Movie That Highlights Sources Of Stress For Children And Need For Change

More than 500 people showed up to the Polson School auditorium Wednesday night to watch the documentary film, Race To Nowhere, and to talk about the best way to reduce stress among children in shoreline towns, stress that experts in the movie said could in some cases contribute to problems like anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, sleep disorders, anorexia, and suicidal thinking.

During a moderated discussion after, students and parents alike asked how the main points of the film could be transformed into action. Several parents asked that all schoolteachers and administrators see the movie. A student enthusiastically endorsed the idea of homework holidays and fewer pointless homework assignments. Another student asked that more of an emphasis be placed on the pursuit of happiness rather than high GPAs, test scores, and the emphasis getting in to a top college.

Representatives from the Madison Alcohol And Drug Education Coalition (MADE) said they would continue to work on these issues and faciliate the discussion to help create an environment where change can take place. The first step is pretty simple, said Laurie E. Ruderfer, MADE Coalition Coordinator.

Honest conversations a starting point

"We can start by having honest conversations while waiting in line at the Stop & Shop," she said during the discussion afterwards, making reference to a point made in the movie that pretending everything is perfect all the time can create unreasonable expectations and pressures for both parents and children.

Taffy Bowes, assistant director of Madison Youth And Family Services, agreed that being realistic about the issues facing the children in town is important.

"We know there are kids who drink and do drugs when they are under pressure," she said. "We know this about the shoreline."

Shoreline towns well represented

The shoreline towns were well represented Wednesday evening. MADE received inquiries from and got participants from Clinton, Higganum, Old Saybrook, Guilford, Old Lyme, Killingworth, Durham, and Milford, among other towns. Attendees included students, school board members, teachers, school administrators, a police officer, at least one state representative, and other town officials.

What they saw was a movie that made the following points:

  • Kids feel like they have to be smart, pretty, athletic, artistic, unique, or they feel like they are failures.
  • That parents too often succumb to fears that their children won't be successful and that those fears are transferred to their children, creating stress.
  • The resulting stress can contribute to actual physical and mental illnesses like headaches, stomach aches, anorexia, sleep disorders, emotional breakdowns, swollen joints, anxiety disorders and suicidal thinking.
  • That sometimes it's the child who appears to be just perfect and all that who is in the most pain. One expert in the movie described how one seemingly healthy student visited her office and the expert was startled to see what she called a "cutter t-shirt," or one that was pulled down low over the young woman's wrists and hands. "She had sliced the word 'empty' into her forearm" she said. "But she put on a terrific presentation" of being just fine.
  • That kids need nine to eleven hours of sleep and that a failure to create an environment where they can get enough sleep can be a form of neglect.
  • That kids who feel pressure to get endless amounts of homework done, after long hours of sports practice, can succumb to the temptation of stimulants to keep themselves awake, then tranquilizers to come down.
  • That we're losing boys who become angry and act out, and we're losing girls to depression.
  • That endless hours of homework not only creates stress but can actually have a negative effect on a child's ability to learn. One teacher in the movie described an experiment where he cut homework in half. The AP scores in his class went up.

Several experts said schools seem to be, more and more, preparing children for college applications, not even for college, or life beyond. An administrator at one top college, the kind of school where kids need perfect grades to be admitted, said an alarmingly high number of students in the freshman class needed remedial work in math and English.

Another expert pointed out that success in life all too often has nothing to do with what kind of grades you get in high school or college. "The world is run by C students. Very few got top grades. They were just very persistent."

If you're interested in having a honest conversation about this, joing us for our Moms' Talk Thursday at 4 p.m. Or, you are welcome to post comments anytime.

For more information about what you can do, check out the Race To Nowhere website.

Sarah Page Kyrcz March 24, 2011 at 11:52 AM
This documentary is an interesting look at a pervasive problem affecting our children. I will say, however, that I do wish it had been a bit more fair and show the other side, where children are doing well in school, balancing their life and moving on to become vital members of society. I know the purpose was to highlight the problems inherent in loading down our children with too much, but personally I think it would have been just as effective and possibly more informative if they had interspersed the "other" point of view.
Pem McNerney (Editor) March 24, 2011 at 02:28 PM
In general, you're right, it is important to present all points of view. A documentary, however, by its nature is designed to present an important point of view in a compelling manner. The point of view here seemed to be that many students are dealing with excessive stress and there is very little upside to that. I think they also did a good job of presenting a range of children, from those who were merely expressing concern, to that poor kid who committed suicide after getting a bad grade in Algebra class. The film was intended to be a wake up call and I hope it is here in town. This town has many wonderful assets, our kids and our schools are top on that list. And we could be doing more to reduce stress levels on our kids. As the parent of a high school senior, I can say that is absolutely true. We need less homework, we need a later starting time for our high school kids, we need coaches who respect family holidays, we need less emphasis on grades and testing, and more emphasis on learning and, to the extent that it is possible, more emphasis on instilling a love of learning in our kids. We need to make sure that kids who abuse drugs and alcohol get the message that that's not OK, and that they have places they can go for help. These problems are not unique to Madison, but I think Madison has the resources and smarts to figure out how to do better.
donna Golden March 24, 2011 at 02:45 PM
Kudos to the student, who suggested during the discussion that more of an emphasis be placed on the "pursuit of happiness" rather than just high GPAs, test scores and the focus on getting into a "top" college. Seems this student has a thing or two to teach the school administrators.
Ms Oya MEARNS October 10, 2011 at 03:37 PM
How can I get the film? I am writing from Istanbul/ Turkey; and we would like to have 1 copy to watch in our School? Our School is private school and American Education our main aducation. as a admin staff I really would like to get some information about this issue from you. Thank you so mUch, Best Regarads. Oya MEARNS
Ms Oya MEARNS October 10, 2011 at 03:37 PM
How can I get the film? I am writing from Istanbul/ Turkey; and we would like to have 1 copy to watch in our School? Our School is private school and American Education our main aducation. as a admin staff I really would like to get some information about this issue from you. Thank you so mUch, Best Regarads. Oya MEARNS
Pem McNerney (Editor) October 10, 2011 at 07:13 PM
Hi Oya. Try calling Tel: (925) 310-4242. Also, here is the website: http://www.racetonowhere.com/. Please let us know how it goes, if you are successful in bringing it to your school and, if so, how people there like it. Good luck!


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something