Race to Nowhere: Conflicting Viewpoints

''Race to Nowhere'' is a documentary created by parent Vicki Abeles. She made the film in response to the strain she saw on her children from their daily homework. Yet despite the film's impassioned plea for relief from perceived excessive assignments, there are many voices who challenge her basic premise. These conflicting viewpoints are part of a fierce debate sparked by the film.

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By Jeff Calareso

Stressed student

Too Much Homework

Vicki Abeles was inspired to make Race to Nowhere following a series of events that signaled to her a need for change in the education system. One event was the suicide of a 13-year-old girl following a poor grade on her math test. Then Abeles' own daughter ended up in the emergency room for a stress-related illness. Despite being a lawyer and not a filmmaker, Abeles concluded that there needed to be more awareness around this issue.

Race to Nowhere suggests that there's far too much pressure on our nation's children to achieve in school and get into the best colleges and universities. In the documentary, Abeles consults educators, psychologists and other experts on what she sees as a major epidemic across the nation. She also points to statistics suggesting a sharp rise in homework time for students across all age groups. This includes students as young as elementary school age.

The argument made in the documentary often centers around anecdotal data. Students and parents are interviewed about their personal experiences, discussing numerous indicators of stress. These include depression, cheating, burnout and disengagement among students. The conclusion drawn by the film is that the pressure to achieve leads to far too much homework, a step that ultimately does more harm than good.

Student studying

Not Enough Homework

Race to Nowhere is not without its detractors. There are many who say that the film is limited in its view and presents an unclear picture. While Race to Nowhere faults an excess of homework, opponents of the film point to studies that show American students doing very little homework. While statistics vary, several studies show that most high school do one hour or less of homework a night. Meanwhile, watching television and other leisure activities takes up over three hours each day.

Those who disagree with Race to Nowhere often note that some students are under excessive pressure to perform. Yet they suggest that the film falsely presumes the problem to be a widespread epidemic. Instead, it may be a problem affecting only a small percentage of high achieving students. Some find fault in how Abeles primarily focuses on her own family and one other from a neighboring town, creating a tiny sample size that's not representative of the nation as a whole.

The conflicting viewpoints surrounding Race to Nowhere highlight the complicated and volatile nature of the issue of education. Both sides want what is best for children, yet they disagree on where to find fault. While Vicki Abeles believes too much homework is unnecessarily stressing out our children, her opponents counter that the majority of American children are doing too little homework.

While the debate rages over homework before college, one college is proposing an end to school break assignments in order to provide students with adequate rest.

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