“Race To Nowhere” Heads Here

Audiences in Chappaqua, Bethesda, Winnetka — high-achieving, high-pressure Westport-type towns across the country — have flocked to “Race to Nowhere.”

The film — fueled largely by word of mouth (internet-style) — has drawn so many SRO crowds at schools, churches and town hall auditoriums around the country, it’s already the 20th most successful documentary ever.

Parents, educators, clergy, physicians — and teenagers — are drawn by the theme:  that years spent building resumes, being tutored and seeking perfection may not produce perfect, healthy, high-achieving kids.  The result, rather, could be “unhealthy, disengaged, unprepared and stressed-out youth.”

After screenings, audiences stay for facilitated discussions.  Recently, in New Canaan, a few high-achieving fathers took issue with the film’s premise that intense pressure is bad.

That’s the way the world works, they said.

Two Staples students disagreed.  They’d gone with Chris Lemone — the outreach worker who runs the school’s Teen Awareness Group — and stuck around to talk.  (Most of the New Canaan kids left — maybe too much homework?)

The Stapleites refuted the dads — strongly and eloquently.  Their words made a tremendous impact on the adult audience.

Now, “Race to Nowhere” is coming to Westport.

The PTA Council is sponsoring a Feb. 15 viewing at Bedford Middle School.  In 2 days — and with virtually no publicity — 600 free tickets sold out.  It happened so quickly, the Staples student and parent communities had not even received details.

The screening cost has already put the PTA Council over their measly budget of $1000.  They hope to recoup some of the money from audience donations that night.

A scene from "Race to Nowhere." A typical Westport scene too?

The Council plans a 2nd screening in March.  They need someone to fund the  $2500.  In a high-achieving community like this, someone should write a check today.

In the meantime, Westporters can click here to find details on other local screenings — including January 28 at Town Hall. Tickets to that show cost $10 each; it’s sponsored by the Learning Community Day School.

Are Westport students engaged in a “race to nowhere” — or do we avoid many of the traps that snare youngsters in similar communities?

Those questions — and others like them — will be explored here this winter.  Whatever the answers, it’s clear — by the race for tickets — that “Race to Nowhere” is important to run.

49 responses to ““Race To Nowhere” Heads Here

  1. Dan,
    Again, Westport can be so so silly! This is a town where people regularly go to Starbucks and drop $4 for a cup of coffee. Why does this movie need to be free? If they charged $2 a ticket it would make a profit. What can you get for $2 today? I’m no super rich guy but I don’t need anyone to pay for me and I would venture to say that almost no one in this town can’t afford to pay $4 to go with their kid to see this movie. While I haven’t seen it, I have read about it and I’d love to take my kids to see it.

    Obviously, the movie doesn’t need to be free if you can get 600 people to go see it with no advertising.

    • Warren,

      If you go onto http://www.racetonowhere.com you can find several screenings in our area in January and early February, including one at Westport’s Town Hall on January 28th, and one at Fairfield County Day School on January 12th. Those screenings cost $10/ticket, and interestingly tickets are not selling fast for either screening. So it seems that charging for the film does deter people from going to see it.

      Westport PTA feels this film is a very important one for our community to see in order to start a dialogue about the pressures our students are under and what we might do as a community to relieve some of that pressure. It is preferable that everyone have access to that conversation, including students and teachers. Charging for the event will not provide equal access and many may choose not to come because of the expense. By the time our High School parents and students received a notice about the film and how to reserve tickets it was already sold out. It is not fair to now charge that group of parents just because they received a later notice.

      However, if we do not find the funding we will have to charge, and it will likely be $10/ticket ($40 for a family of 4) because, as witnessed from other screenings that charge for seats, we cannot count on filling our auditorium and will need to make sure we at least cover our expenses.

      It is notable that New Canaan and Greenwich have, and are, showing multiple screenings of the film for free. They see the value of including everyone in this important conversation that impacts the youth in their communities. I am sure that Westport does as well.

      • The pressure on kids here to excel has been going on for decades. To believe that a movie, free or otherwise, is going to change that is naive.

        • That is exactly the point the director is trying to make — we need to start the process of identifying the problems and making small changes. The stresses and pressure on students to succeed does not affect each child equally. Some children cope in very different ways, leading to different outcomes. This movie tries to show parents that excess stress on students may not lead to better learning or achievement for all students, and shows vividly the coping mechanisms SOME children use, such as substance and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, cheating, depression and in some cases suicide. Certainly, the everyday stresses of middle and high school do not cause every child to cope in this manner, but we as parents should know what to look out for, and perhaps what we might be able to prevent through our own parenting. We in the PTA community would like to begin this conversation without explicitly having to charge our students, teachers or parents a fee to enter. We welcome everyone into the conversation.

          • The Dude Abides

            I respect your enthusiasm toward some form of “reform” but remain doubtful of its success. The maladies that you mention of this new generation are not necessarily unique to this area but I do believe, after growing up here, that many of the expectations are inherent in the success and affluence that feed the animal that you are trying to tame. To a worm in horseradish, the world is still horseradish.

  2. Why those high achieveing New Canaan father may be right! One good thing about stress is that it keeps the divorce lawyers and cardiologists well employed.

  3. The Dude Abides

    While high achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectations (Kettering), anger comes from frustrated expectations (Larson). Much of a Catch-22, no? Chin up Wreckers, you will be parents one day.

  4. It is ironic that Dan thinks that someone in this “…high-achieving community” should write a check to subsidize the showing of a movie that speaks to the perils of seeking high achievement.

  5. Interesting premise. It was only after I left Westport that I realized how absurd some of our goals are. I got into a relatively prestigious college, and I could have done so even had I worked a little less hard and slept more and did fewer extracurriculars.

  6. What are the goals? To play football, sing in the choir, run for Student Council, and then attend an Ivy League college just so you can get a job on Wall Street to make a fast 100 million and buy your own vineyard and then drop dead of a heart attack at 52? You need to retreat from Westport or a movie to tell you that is jacked up?

    • well, I was aware of the absurdities prior to my departure, but they just seem surreal to me now. it’s hard truly questioning them when everyone is following them.

  7. Maybe they should show the movie to high school students in the BRIC countries who are competing for what were once exclusively American jobs. I am sure the movie will cause them to rethink their goals and objectives.

  8. An “06880” reader writes:

    When I followed the link to the film, I learned that my alma mater Ridgewood High School, in a community similar to Westport, has responded by giving kids a holiday break from homework:


    How about that for a small first step here?

  9. 180 days is stressful. Implementation of a “nap time” might be in order just after the free lunch.

  10. Staples High School start time needs to be later. Move it from 7:30 to 8:30. That would do more to reduce stress than anything suggested, in jest or seriousness, in the comments above.

    • The Dude Abides

      Agreed. Let them start at 9:00 a.m. for that matter and go 241 days a year like the Germans/Japanese. The little tots can start at 7:30 a.m. They go to bed early. They have it a#& backwards.

      • And one year mandatory public service

        • The Dude Abides

          Make that two.

          • I think such a requirement would not be in the best interest of the nation as a whole. Why relegate the educated to serving in public sector jobs that are a drag on the economy? Why not encourage them to get a higher paying job and start paying taxes? Moreover, having served in a public sector job immediately after graduation, nice uniform, three squares a day, great medical, if you lived long enough to take advantage of it, I can say, with some certainty, that involuntary labor is often at the root of great misadventures.

          • The Dude Abides

            The problem with your argument is that you are assuming that they are educated. The vast majority of high school graduates read at an 8th grade level in this country. A two year military or community service committment would instill not only a sense of patriotism but give many a direction in life that is often times lacking in the average 20 year old now.

          • Do you think really that a two year military commitment would instill patriotism? More than likely it would just provide cheap labor for the next poltically motivated military adventure. I fail to see how involuntary servitude would instill patriotism. Your plan is yet another tax; taxes don’t create patriots.

          • This isn’t about military service although that should be an option and has helped turn around the lives of many lost young people. This is about service to the Nation and redefining what it means to grow up American. There is so much poverty, hunger and ignorance in our Country, providing a wealth of opportunity for young Americans to actually contribute directly to improving the welfare of those less fortunate. In return they gain knowledge and empathy- both dwindling resources.

          • Coerced public “service” is a waste of scarce resources. I fail to see how wasting scarce resources would help the poor and disadvantaged. The dude did mention military service.

          • Right and I just said military service should be an option. There is a difference between coercion and obligation. Freedom isn’t free, which the Entitled Generation does not understand. This kind of service could be the perfect detour off the “Road to Nowhere.”

          • Jefferson argued that freedom was free; it was not a gift granted by the government. You may be suggesting that the defense of those freedoms is not free, and I do agree with you. However, I do not undestand how squandering scarce resources is part an optimal defense of freedom. What you and the Dude are advocating is coercion, no matter how you dress it up. The “obligation” is collected at the point of gun. I don’t see how depriving someone of their natural rights is a defense of freedom. Finall, coerced labor, in all of its manifestations, should be relagated to our distant past.

          • The Dude Abides

            You served. I did. Different view of our country besides just paying taxes. That is my view at least. I think it creates a sense of pride in one’s country that is sorely missing these days.

          • The Dude Abides

            Jeez, we got anon and anon+. How many 18-20 year olds are paying taxes? The majority of them are finding their way through the bottom of a glass of beer. That is fine but my belief is that a mandatory 2 year committment to the United States would certainly sharpen their focus on a future as well as learning far more than at a frat party. On a sidenote, most military leaders shun the idea for they frown on a draft as well as a short term committment.

          • The Dude Abides

            Aren’t you the one who brought up Jefferson? The biggest hypocrite of all. While I agree that the leadership in this country is lacking, I still firmly believe in the basic fundamentals of this country: that is to make a lot of money and be as lazy as you can get away with (Thoreau). Perhaps it is my many years in Texas, but I still get some goose pumps when they sing God Bless America. And I believe such feelings directly result from my time in the military as well as government service. You can be proud to be an American and not satisfied in its direction. No?

          • Dude: I do not understand why you advocate a reduction of personal freedom. We seem to be writing at cross purposes. I see coerced labor as a sub-optimal strategy for maximizes overall welfare, and an unnecessary restriction on individual freedom. I think that you are trying to make the case that involuntary service builds character. It may, but 3 minutes of exposure to the American political system will negate any benefit.

          • The Dude Abides

            Perhaps because I don’t look at military or community service to one’s country as involuntary servitude. Nor do I put in terms of only the political arena. If one were to serve in a VA hospital for two years taking care of the elderly, I think they might just have a different view of war and also, the plight of the less fortunate. I see it as a win-win situation for both the country and the those who serve.

          • I worked in a VA hospital. There were men there who had been wounded in WW I. I saw a great waste of decent human beings many of whom literally were forgotten after making a huge sacrifice.

          • The Dude Abides

            It apparently made an impact on you as well as helping those veterans. Win-win. We are at an impasse because, it seems, you believe every high school graduate is ready to enter the world of education or the work force in full determination of what they want to do. That is probably where you were at such age. I believe the majority of such graduates have no idea of what they are going to do and waste several years in finding such direction. My proposal would assist that search as well as serving their country.

        • I think the issue is more than a matter of instilling pride or patriotism; it is a question of public policy. I fail to see how forcing people to endure public “service” is a benefit to society. Why should coerced labor generate feelings of pride towards the entity exerting the force?

          • The Dude Abides

            Don’t you have a different perspective towards war and this country after being in the military???

          • As I stated in an earlier thread, I did serve in the military, but never went to Vietnam, unlike our newest senator, oh wait, he didn’t go either. The crap pulled by guys like Bumenthal has far greater influence on what I think of this country than the short time I spent in the military. How can you observe the endless criminality and mendacity exhibited by our elected officials and not wonder why you should have pride in this country. Why would you want to cede more power to the band of thugs and nitwits that make up our cadre of elected officials?

      • Hear, hear

  11. Anybody interested in this type of stuff may want to listen to this podcast:

    • Thanks for the link. This podcast is great and the book seems really interesting and relevant. I’ll check it out of our public library tomorrow.

  12. I posted this in a different thread a while ago, and it is very relevant to this discussion: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

    Personally, I don’t think small changes like pushing back the start times or doing away with homework for a few days is going to do the trick. Reforming the education system is going to require a cultural overhaul of everything American. It’s gotten to the point where the competition of capitalism has permeated schoolgrounds and forced children out of their creativity, scaring them out of making mistakes and taking risks (and no, I’m not against our capitalist culture, before anyone casts false assertions against me). Ironic how our country was founded on huge risks, and many of the most successful corporations are headed or discovered by people bursting with creativity. The New Canaan fathers may be correct that our society is cutthroat and intense, but we all know that and it’s not the point; the point is that we need to change it.

    • The competition is global in nature. Whining about its intensity is not a viable approach. There are millions, maybe billions, who relish the opportunity to compete, if you opt out, you will not be missed. You probably will be unemployed, but not missed. I do agree that public schools do much to kill creativity; a one size fits all education system is destined to produce that consequence.

  13. The Dude Abides

    We have become a nation of whiners. The race to nowhere is for those that have difficulty competing. I am not sure how we can have the world’s best university system and one of the crappiest K-12 systems. The unfortunate byproduct of all this is that, while education used to be the equalizer for those, unlike Westport kids, who did not win the sperm lottery, such is no longer. They are doomed to fail and will expediate the fall of the middle class and deeper monetary diversion between the rich and poor.

  14. Perhaps because I don’t look at military or community service to one’s country as involuntary servitude. Nor do I put in terms of only the political arena. If one were to serve in a VA hospital for two years taking care of the elderly, I think they might just have a different view of war and also, the plight of the less fortunate. I see it as a win-win situation for both the country and the those who serve.

    • If it were win-win, you would not need to compel service. Forcing individuals to behave in a manner you feel is lauditory is not a good idea generally. I did work in a VA hospital, but it was not necessary to see the carnage to realize that war was an evil and those who took us to war were reprehensible.

  15. There has always been competition to achieve excellence and back in my day (I am 50), some kids did and many didnt care to. There were a few winners in all arenas and students accepted who the winners were. Only the number one kid got a trophy. Parents were not involved for the most part other than offering occasional encouragement. All students were aware of who the stars were: the super athletes, the genius writers, the broadway bound singers etc. We all knew a few would shoot for the Ivy league caliber education and “big” careers. The remaining students were taught by good example to accept with who they were. Often they were content to find somewthing interesting to do with their lives. Most succeeded : families, kids, solid jobs, community involvement.
    The difference today is that parents want to be in control of their kids lives, steering them to success without thinking about who their kids really are. They want to ensure the outcome with as much intervention as possible. They require the teachers to demand more and more (just ask the teachers!)Not much else has changed. (Ask the kids!) Most will say the parents are driving them nuts. Do you really think that kids had the idea of engaging in a multitude of extracurriculars? The parents are behind it, with shameful devotion of resources and burning drive. But the big joke is that today the same handful of unusually intelligent, athletic and gifted kids are outstanding, (and they will make their way to the best schools!) and the rest are simply marvelous. Isnt that good enough? And maybe the Ivy leaguers will decide to drop out and become drummers and the community college kid will delve into local poilitics and end up in Washington. Doesnt that sound like what you read about?
    So parents, remove yourself from the classrooms, the teachers dont need you (unless they ask!). Stop always inventing more ways to complicate every activity with more layers of activity. Allow teachers to teach and allow your kids to find themselves. Stop adding pressure to what can be a wonderful time in life. And dont worry, if you gave birth to an overachiever, there is not a thing you can do about it. And your little artist will find that paintbrush whether you like it or not. You may as well make it fun.

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  17. a concerned parent

    We test our kids to death, and as parents see IPRS, snap grades, have black board, extra curricular everything. Ever wonder why kids are filled with anxiety. The school system is partly to blame. Give the kids a break. Do we need to break them in so hard when they are young and then put so much press on at Middles School and High School that the town endorses this filming? Let them be well rounded kids — how about a movie on that!