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Patrick Springer, Published September 26 2010

Film "Race to Nowhere" aims to spark discussion

Stressed students who feel trapped on a treadmill to meet high expectations of academic achievement, athletic and artistic prowess as well as community involvement.

Anguished parents who face nightly battles with their children struggling to complete homework assignments.

Frustrated educators who feel compelled to “teach to the test” and race through material instead of teaching in a more meaningful way.

And, in spite of all that, a nation lagging behind other developed countries in preparing its children, especially in math and science.

“Everyone expects us to be superheroes,” one high school girl tells the camera.

“We’re all caught up in it,” a mother and counselor confesses. “We’re all afraid that they” – our children – “won’t be as successful as we are.”

“People get caught up in this race to nowhere,” a male student says, handing filmmaker Vicki Abeles the title for her documentary, “Race to Nowhere,” a dilemma she has witnessed as a mother.

The film will be shown at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Fargo Theatre, followed by a panel discussion featuring local students, parents and educators, in what organizers hope will spur a fruitful community examination of how to improve the way we raise and teach its children.

“I think this is an issue that’s just captivating America right now,” said Margie Bailly, executive director of the Fargo Theatre. “Everybody’s buzzing about it.”

“Race to Nowhere” is among a handful of films and books that are placing America’s education system under a magnifying glass. Another popular documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” is in current release.

Bailly saw “Race to Nowhere” at the urging of Christopher Gabriel, a talk-show host at WDAY AM radio who will moderate the panel discussion.

Since seeing the film, she’s quizzed young people she knows, an exercise that reinforces one of the movie’s central messages: Many children and adolescents today are overcommitted.

“I think ‘Race to Nowhere’ is a great title,” Bailly said. “I think there is this marathon that has no ribbons at the end. There’s no end to it.”

Taylor Gess, a senior at Fargo South High School, agrees that many students feel they’re on a treadmill they can’t get off as they struggle to balance academics and activities.

“Kids are just overwhelmed and stressed and aren’t given the opportunity to be kids in some instances,” she said.

“I haven’t really found that balance,” she added. Her commitments outside of academics include debate, serving as director of Homeless & Hungry, volunteering for Philanthropic Youth as well as Students Today, Leaders Tomorrow.

“Sleep is usually what goes,” Gess said. “You can’t really give up activities. You can’t give up academics.”

Bailly hopes the movie will engage the community and discussion – and ultimately lead to improvements.

For instance, some research cited by the film indicates that American students might be drowning in too much homework. Counterintuitively, students in some countries that require less homework actually perform better.

“Maybe we need a homework-free day?” Bailly said, offering a possible step the community might take as part of a broader effort.

“I think we have a responsibility as a community to do better,” she added. “I think it’s a dialogue that is long overdue. I’m excited to see what happens.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522


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