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Published on October 1st, 2010 | by Staff 12-13


Are Samo students on a “Race to Nowhere?”

Absorb. Test. Discard. Repeat. This is a process all too familiar to students in high school. In education today, students always feel the need to please, with the fear of failure and the feeling that no learning is really occurring ever-present. Instead, it feels as if we’re just taking in our daily dose of information and spitting it out again at someone’s request, like machines.

Director Vicki Abeles recognized this very problem in her family, and in her local schools. In her documentary “Race to Nowhere,” Abeles explores and uncovers the dangers into which schools in America are placing their students. The film provides an insight into the world that’s being created for our generation, with stories so shockingly close to home, they’re almost painful to watch.

Special Education teacher Lisa Johnson has always felt passionately about rethinking the way students are being educated. It was through her hard work and dedication that a screening of “Race to Nowhere” was held in Barnum Hall on September 21. After seeing the film only once, Johnson knew right away that she had to find a way to bring it to Samo.

“I felt like the teachers in the movie. I was already working on education reform, so this felt like ‘here’s a train where I already feel the same way, and I can just get on,’” Johnson said.

As a teacher and a Samo parent, Johnson has seen two sides of the situation. As a parent, she has seen the all-nighters, the cramming for tests and constant anxiety about school. As a teacher, she struggles to cover all state- mandated material while trying to provide her students with a positive learning experience.

“We’ve lost teaching as a profession,” Johnson said, “Now we’re into ‘we have to teach you this, to pass that.’ It’s the culture of education today.”

Johnson realizes the potential impact the film could have on the Samo student body, and has made great effort to keep the film at school so it can be shared with the masses.

“I want the kids to see it, because I see the kids explode – and I saw kids explode after watching just a little bit of this. And I’ve seen kids cry. This let’s me know that we have ticking time bomb here,” Johnson said.

The ever-present stress is recognized across the Samo campus. Many students feel the source of the problem comes from the constant need to succeed. And by today’s standards, success means having the ability to impress the colleges.

“Colleges expect more and more as each year passes,” senior Jason Pitts said. “Pupils are constantly trying to join clubs and organizations even though there’s no time allotted in their weekly schedules to be active in these extracurriculars, receive good grades and stay sane.”

As students, we don’t need a movie to tell us that expectations are set too high. But it’s still comforting to know that we are not alone in feeling all the pressure of school. Although the end may not be clear, many teachers and parents, such as Johnson and Abeles, are beginning to look for the answer to the problem.

“The truth is: Our kids are tired, they’re not happy,” Johnson said. “We need to do something to make them happy.”

Alice Kors
Staff Writer


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7 responses to “Are Samo students on a “Race to Nowhere?””

  1. Lisa Johnson says:

    Abby I will let Vickie know about interest. Keep up the good work!

  2. Abby Mahler says:

    Ya know, I haven’t actually seen Waiting for Superman. But this is what I hear from the two groups I keep in contact with- the Race to Nowhere page on Facebook, and, which is my source for most of my reform information. It’s very liberal, but keeps things in perspective.

    As far as actual reform work, I’m not involved yet. I’m not sure Vickie ever received my reply, so I’m going to try and e-mail her again. Hopefully the wheels will start turning and I can get some real change going. :]

  3. Carlee Jensen says:

    Abby – I’m interested in the program you’re involved in. What is it called, and what is its philosophy as far as education reform goes?

    I haven’t seen Waiting for Superman yet, but from what I understand it’s major criticism is against teachers’ unions, and it presents charter schools as a better alternative to the current school system. Is the complaint against Waiting for Superman just that it was too narrow in focusing only on charter schools? Or are the complaints against its accuracy?

  4. Jessie Geoffray says:

    wow, it completely had me fooled. I want to hear more about this…

  5. Abby Mahler says:

    Waiting for Superman is actually *not* a documentary. I’ve been in contact with Vicki Abeles for a while, and I’m in line to be on a national board of students for education reform.. everyone involved is pretty angry about Waiting for Superman.

    Its focus is narrow, on charter schools, and there are many flaws. Stick to Race to Nowhere for the facts.

    Waiting for Superman was also made with an already big name in Hollywood, whereas the point of Race to Nowhere is to create a grassroots movement with those that care across the country.

  6. Have you seen Waiting for Superman?
    It’ll make you so angry about the public school system in America.

  7. Liam Kane says:

    This is an extremely interesting article which relates to this.

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