The XX Factor

How Long Will Kids “Race to Nowhere?’

One of the few truisms I know about parenting is that you should never judge a parent whose kids are older than yours, which makes me fearful of weighing in too heavily on all the discussion surrounding Race to Nowhere , a documentary about the pressures on over-scheduled kids overwhelmed by testing in schools, year-round sports, and a perceived need to résumé build for the big race to the Ivy Leagues. It’s the rug rat race, which we’ve written about before, from the student perspective, and it’s not pretty. Mothers may be quitting their jobs to drive their kids to more activities , but the kids are cheating, stressing, losing sleep, and dropping out. From my point of view-my oldest child is 9-it’s yet another inglorious vision of a possible future. Of course it all sounds ridiculous now. Of course I’m convinced we’ll somehow be immune to pressures from all sides, and it’s more than a little tempting to mock a movie about pressures on kids to succeed that’s screening in the lunchroom at Pixar and at Google headquarters, as well as in schools with names like “New Canaan Country.”

But the debates that both the NYT article about the movie and its earlier review of the film describe ring true even at our stage of the game. The school gives too much homework and tests too much, but if it stopped requiring the homework, would we worry that it wasn’t preparing our kids for high school? We don’t want them to “teach to the test,” but we all know how we feel about schools whose kids don’t score well on the much maligned standardized exams. We don’t take sports too seriously, but happens when the kids clamor to join their friends on a hockey league that practices until 10 p.m.?

I already know there are no easy answers to those questions. Apparently the movie doesn’t offer any, either. Instead, it encourages the communities that surround the schools and kids to spend enough time on the questions that we’re at least not accepting the status quo. That sounds like a good thing, but even from my perspective as a relatively young parent, I begin to wonder if on this particular subject, we’re not all talk and no action. Sure, we don’t want to drop too much pressure on our kids. But on the other hand, not many of us are convinced we want to drop the pressure entirely, either. We don’t seem too good, collectively, at coming up with a middle ground.