The Humanities Institute Presents: Race to Nowhere

By Eliza Silverman '14Copy Editor

According to documentary director Vicki Abeles, young people of the 21st century are graduating from high school uninspired and unprepared to learn and be challenged in college and in the workplace. In her first film “Race to Nowhere,” Abeles presents the origins of this exact problem, offering various solutions as to how it can be fixed. The film is an attempt to galvanize support for and inspire discourse

on widespread reform in schools: less homework, more inspired curriculum, fewer outside pressures put on students.

“Race to Nowhere” features interviews and footage of burnt-out, anxiety-prone, disengaged students. The environment of middle schools and high schools in the United States is, according to Abeles’s portrayal of it, not conducive to developing the intellectual confidence and individuality required to thrive in college and beyond. Rather, students are prone to cramming or cheating to get good grades. Or they develop stress-related illnesses or depression. Educators are fatigued and parents just want to do what is best for their children—with nobody seeming to know exactly what is “best.”

Students in Abeles’s film, overworked and overstressed by the failings of the modern education system, lack the internal motivation fundamental for success. Interviewees all describe similar sentiments toward school: they do not like it because they are pushed to the brink in an intellectual environment devoid of passion and stimulation.

One girl described her depression after she did not earn the grade in math that would qualify her for

Honors credit—she had to be checked into a stress therapy center until she learned to prioritize and balance. Another girl spoke about her struggle with an eating disorder, which stemmed from a desperate search for control. The girl, enrolled as a junior in high school before her rampant anorexia caused her to withdraw, could not handle her nightly six or seven hours of homework. In order to maintain control over at least one facet of her life, she began restricting her diet and imposing rules on food. One 13-year-old girl’s sudden suicide, in the wake of receiving a poor grade on a math test, was recounted by her heart-heavy and disconcerted mother.

“Race to Nowhere” forces its audience to question why the U.S. educational system is creating student martyrs. For what good is their education if students cannot apply what they learn to a productive future?

“Race to Nowhere,” a film which has been screened in over 1750 locations, 48 states and 20 countries through a grassroots community screening campaign, was brought to the Garrison Theater on March 29. Scripps’s Humanities Institute worked in conjunction with Pitzer’s Munroe Center for Social Inquiry to put on the screening, which received an audience of nearly 450 people. This high attendance serves as silent vindication of what Abeles portrays as a stress-induced epidemic currently facing schools.

After the screening, Abeles spoke with the audience via Skype about the film’s success, and its effect on communities in the United States. There was also a panelist discussion from Scripps professor YouYoung Kang and Pomona professor Gilda L. Ochoa. An audience virtually half the size of the College’s current enrollment walked away from Garrison inspired with renewed drive to inform fellow students, spark discussion and change in the current educational system.