Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Feeling the pressure.

The HSA meeting at the high school Tuesday night included a frank and open discussion about the pressures that Ridgewood students feel –as well as where the pressure comes from, what are the effects, and what can/should we, as a community, do about it?

The discussion was sparked by a report from the Global Classroom Conference, which took place at Ridgewood High School last year. A group of students from around the world came to Ridgewood and conducted a research project. The theme they chose for Ridgewood, after speaking with students, faculty and their host families, was pressure. Specifically, the tremendous pressure students are under to achieve and excel. The Global Classroom participants created a video and a written report – the video was shown at the HSA meeting (and hopefully will be available on YouTube or on the RHS website soon).

The video was enlightening, interesting, and somewhat depressing, featuring RHS kids speaking quite honestly about the reality of growing up in Ridgewood and the enormous expectations for college and future success.

RHS Director of Guidance, Jeff Nyhuis, has been working with Dr. Anne Robinson, a Ridgewood parent and pediatrician, to bring the issue of our pressured students to the forefront. The conversation at Tuesday’s HSA meeting was great. Two students spoke about pressures to participate in extracurricular activities regardless of their interest or enjoyment, pressure for grades, cheating, lack of sleep, and the difficulty of meeting parent expectations for grades and college acceptances. Parents complained about teachers who give way too much homework, and children spending too many hours on homework and sports or afterschool activities, leaving little time for relaxation, socializing with friends and SLEEP.

Parents also talked about our own role in creating this pressure. Not only do our children feel how much we want them to succeed, teachers know that parents expect our schools to be “successful,” with higher test scores or better rankings in New Jersey Monthly magazine. This undoubtedly fuels the teachers’ decisions to add more homework, more grades, more tests. Parents in Ridgewood often get nervous when they feel their children aren’t being kept busy enough. Free time, with absolutely nothing scheduled and nothing due, can seem odd or undesirable to many Ridgewood parents. So even if the school were to lessen the load, many parents would fill the space created with more activities, more sports, more drama classes, more volunteering, more scouts...

As the next step in this process, the RHS HSA will be screening a very important and critically acclaimed documentary film, Race to Nowhere. According to the movie’s website, Race to Nowhere’s director “ignites a national conversation in her new documentary about the pressures faced by American schoolchildren and their teachers in a system and culture obsessed with the illusion of achievement, competition and the pressure to perform. Featuring the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids, Race to Nowhere points to the silent epidemic in our schools: cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired….Race to Nowhere is a call to mobilize families, educators, and policy makers to challenge current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens.”

The film will be screened at BF middle school, sometime during the first week of December, and all Ridgewood parents will be invited. When the date is set I’ll post it here.


Anonymous said...

The George Lucas Educational Foundation calls 'Race to Nowhere' "Another Inconvenient Truth".

'An Inconvenient Truth' was directed and produced by Davis Gugenheim.

Gugenheim wrote and directed 'Waiting for Superman'.

With both documentaries focusing on education, are there any plans to preview 'Superman' in the district?

Laurie said...

Not that I know of. And I'm glad about that. Waiting for Superman seems to be an over-simplified sales and political-agenda piece that, interestingly, increases the overachiever pressure with its emphasis on test-based "accountability" (among other things).

Respectfully, your six-degrees connection between the two films is tenuous, at best.

Most importantly, Race to Nowhere seems to be more of a conversation starter, allowing communities to first identify the problems and then work together to come up with solutions in which we all must participate. (Note: the HSA is also going to screen the film for the RHS faculty.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I was at the meeting last week at the HS and I agree that something needs to be done to address the pressure that our children are under. Three suicides of young people in the past year...it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out we have a problem. My kids are spending 3, 4 hours every night on homework, practicing sports, taking piano lessons, church youth group, girl scouts...it's insane and I know I'm as guilty as the next parent but I also feel like I have to encourage this level of activity or my kids will be out of the loop. Other kids will beat them to the good colleges, good jobs, good life. I want to start re-thinking this pressure, but I think we all need to do it together.

So thanks for keeping the issue up. I'll be at that movie screening and will be interested to see how we as a community react.