Several years ago, my only knowledge of film came from buying tickets at the box office and going to see a movie with my kids. But I was inspired to make Race to Nowhere after a series of wake-up calls made me look closely at our education system--and at the relentless pressure it puts on our children and families.
Like many parents, I witnessed strain and fatigue in my own children as they navigated days filled with school, homework, tutoring, and extracurricular activities. Then, after months of watching our 12-year-old daughter spend long evenings battling homework assignments, studying for tests, and suffering panic attacks in the middle of the night, my husband and I found her doubled over in pain, and we rushed her to the emergency room. Her cheerful façade and determination to keep up had hidden her symptoms from us, her friends, and her teachers. When she was diagnosed with a stress-induced illness, I was determined to do something.
I started to make some changes in my home, but many of the pressures on my children and family felt systemic and beyond my control. I felt the need to raise awareness about the unhealthy and out-of-balance educational culture we were experiencing, and to bring communities together to galvanize change at a large scale. Films had always been a powerful force in my life, so I decided to capture the stories of my children, their peers, and those on the frontlines of education--teachers and students--on camera. Race to Nowhere was born.
After interviewing students, parents and teachers, I met with top education and child development experts at Stanford University and other leading institutions. I interviewed my own daughter and went on camera myself to lend personal context to the national story I could see emerging. Several months into the film’s development, without any warning signs, a 13-year-old girl in our community committed suicide after getting a poor grade on a math test. This local tragedy added yet more urgency to the need for change.
Now, more than two years after the film’s premiere, I am joined by millions of educators, parents, policymakers, and students who see that childhood has become indentured to test scores, performance, and competition. Together, we are facing an epidemic of unhealthy, disengaged, unprepared kids trying to manage as best they can. We agree that we cannot keep silent any longer, and that we cannot wait for government or large institutions to make the radical changes our kids need today. We agree that layers of change are needed, starting from the ground up.
It is my hope that Race to Nowhere creates a jumping-off point for that grassroots change--a forum where we can join forces to transform education and reclaim healthy childhood one community at a time. Thank you for watching, for bringing the Race to Nowhere conversation to your own community, and for acting on what you see.
Vicki H. Abeles