Fearlessness in Oakland

This past Saturday, I attended Temple Beth Abraham's screening of Race to Nowhere in Oakland, California. After the film, a local high school English teacher mediated a conversation between the parents, educators, and students in attendance. The discussion was both intimate and impassioned, but it was not these dynamics that struck me. 

To be honest, it was its inconclusiveness. It was its uncertainty. It was people's fearlessness to ask questions to which they did not have the answers.

I am a new addition to the Race to Nowhere staff, but I have been organizing events and discussions about various social issues for years. I promise you that a community discussion so open to uncertainty is rare. Of course, there were a few points all agreed on. Everyone acknowledged that we live in a country that prizes, in the words of one audience member, "not just being your best but being the best of everyone." 

One audience member, an educational PhD student named Elizabeth, remarked how American society equates our worth to our productivity. As she explained in a follow-up e-mail, "Ironically there is research that shows that your emotional intelligence and relational abilities equal 85% of your success in life...If we were to really examine who are the 'best' employees, the trails would not lead back to the ivy league schools and top SAT test takers." 

While all agreed that our pressure-cooker system needs to change, there was less agreement on how. However, instead of turning this lack of answer into hopelessness, people became fearless. They gave themselves permission to ask hard, complicated, and necessary questions:

What can teachers do to lighten their students' workloads yet encourage them to intellectually grow?

How do we deal with the technological divide between children of different economic groups?

How can teachers feel less pressure from parents? How can parents feel less pressure from schools?

We know the solutions lie in thinking big to change our culture, and the best way to start thinking is to start questioning. As Elizabeth explained, watching and discussing the film together "is truly the best way to strike a movement." Thanks for joining us, and don't forget to stay in touch along the way. We can't wait to hear from you!

Kristine Stolakis