Apodaca: Are we sending kids on a 'Race to Nowhere'?

April 26, 2011|By Patrice Apodaca

Are we raising a generation of anxious, overly stressed, sleep-deprived kids? Or are concerns about how hard we're driving our children misguided and overblown?

Those questions are often on my mind, but even more so since last week, when I attended a local screening of the provocative documentary "Race to Nowhere," a film by former Wall Street lawyer and mother of three Vicki Abeles.

Through interviews with students, parents, educators and mental-health professionals her film makes the case that pressures on children have grown so much that we've compromised our kids' health, happiness and ability to truly succeed in learning.


The documentary has been making the rounds in communities across the country, tapping into a groundswell of unease among parents, who fear that our educational system and goals have gone badly astray.

"Race to Nowhere" relies heavily on testimonials and anecdotal evidence to make its point, and tends to throw a very large net over a wide range of issues, from teen suicide to eating disorders to cheating. It provides little in the way of hard proof that excessive amounts of homework, an obsession with testing and the high-stakes college admission game are worsening these maladies.

Yet, judging by the nods and murmurs of assent throughout the audience, I'd wager that most parents know instinctively and through their own experiences that Abeles is right.

As I write this, I am distracted by worries over my 16-year-old son, a high school sophomore who got exactly two hours of sleep the night before. No typo: two hours.

What's most distressing is that it's not unusual. Indeed, I'd estimate that so far during this school year, he gets an average of five to six hours of sleep each school night. At his age, he should be averaging at least eight to nine hours nightly.

Let me stress that my son is a normal, hardworking, conscientious teen with an academic load that is typical at his school. He plays a sport, does a few other extracurricular activities, and fulfills his required community service obligations — again, all standard fare for students his age.

But this typical teen is so exhausted that he sometimes nods off during meals, and so overworked that he missed celebrating Easter with his extended family.

It was the same painful struggle for my older son. He is now a happy, well-adjusted third-year college student, but he was so miserable in high school that he still has difficulty talking about that stressful time.

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