At a screening last night of the documentary film “Race to Nowhere,” another mother and I were marvelling at the fact that we were seeing the film at the same time that “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” is getting so much publicity. They represent such very different perspectives on parenting. Why, we wondered, is this happening now? If popular philosphies on parenting swing from permissive to strict and back to permissive again, where are we, as a culture, right now? And what does this mean for our kids? While “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” describes a punitive and restrictive Chinese parenting style that is designed to prepare children to compete in the global economy, “Race to Nowhere,” shows the toll that insisting on high achievement is taking on kids around the country, from every economic background.
I was familiar with some of the issues addressed by Race to Nowhere from having read a couple of Alfie Kohn’s books, such as "The Homework Myth." He’s been talking about these issues for over 10 years now, warning that practices like assigning hours of homework, awarding teachers merit pay, closing down struggling schools, advocating charter schools and promoting high stakes testing are all counterproductive.
Here are some of the most impressive findings from Challenge Success.
In a national survey, students were asked to use 3 words to describe how they felt in school. The word most often used by students was “bored” followed by “tired.”
Time kids spend doing homework has increased 51% since 1981.
Harris Cooper reviewed research on homework, which showed almost no correlation between homework and achievement for elementary school students. There was a 0.7 correlation for middle school students for the first 60 minutes; if middle school students did more than that, he found little or no correlation.
According to a study of children at more than 60 schools, by the end of 4th grade, those kids who had attended academically oriented preschools earned significantly lower grades than did those who had attended more progressive, “child-initiated” preschool classes, where the emphasis was on play.
In Finland, kids begin formal school at age 7. While initially behind, by age 15, Finnish students outperform students from every nation in reading skills. Finnish students are also among the highest scorers in math and science literacy.
According to a large study done by the University of Michigan, family meals are the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems for children ages 3-12.
Kids today have 12 hours less free time each week than they did in 1981.
Studies have shown, that sleep deprivation is associated with memory deficits, impaired performance and alertness, and delayed responses, yet school starting times get earlier and earlier.
Some of my friends are very concerned about the number of AP classes on their kids’ transcripts. They’re wondering what it means for their kids’ college applications. They’re worried about whether they will get into the top NYC public schools, whether they’ll get recruited for a “travel” team, place in their gymnastics meet, or get the lead in the school play. I have my own anxieties and worries and hopes for my kids. What I really hope, though, is that all parents, teachers, administrators, and medical professionals will see “Race to Nowhere." It’s made me feel a little better about things. Maybe if we don’t push our kids, if we give them more free time and less pressure -- even if these things don’t happen, it will be okay. We might even all be happier. It will be okay. It really will.