In the growing pantheon of documentaries about the American education system, Vicki Abeles’s frankly partisan Race to Nowhere is a cri de coeur from a California mother of overstressed, symptomatic children groaning under the pressure of too much homework and testing, too many extracurricular activities geared toward the ritzy college résumé, and so on. Abeles traveled between the coasts—pausing tendentiously to pick up steam with an anorexic in Indiana and a suicide close to home, both of whose problems surely have roots more complex than too much schoolwork—gathering support for her anguish from addled kids, concerned parents, and worried experts along the way. Fair enough, and not many would disagree that kids K through 12 wade through too much busywork, much of it useless or irrelevant to anything but the iron road to college placement. Yet the director sheds little new light on why few parents, teachers, politicians, or administrators seem willing to get off the bus, even when confronted with evidence that other countries that invest in teachers and don’t test children to death are knocking U.S. education out of the park. It falls to one very clued-in Stanford social scientist to put her finger on our most pressing problem: the radical class and racial inequality between inner- and outer-city school resources, the most immediate consequence of which is our overflowing prisons.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 8, 2010