Phooey: Race To Nowhere

Last month I wrote a blog post about the movie Race to Nowhere that’s being shown at high schools across the country. I pretty much trashed the movie – here is the post:

Race to Nowhere Skeptic

If you want to get an idea of why I’d like to hurl some overripe tomatoes at a screening of this movie, check out the Race to Nowhere Trailer.

I recently received two thoughtful comments about my Race to Nowhere post from a couple of people whom I greatly respect:

Alice Kleeman is a savvy counselor at Menlo-Atherton High School, which is in an affluent neighborhood in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is just the sort of high school where you’ll find the type of over-scheduled students who are featured in the Race To Nowhere.  Kriz Hinz is an independent college counselor in New Jersey, who makes a point of keeping abreast of the latest college issues.

I wanted to share their comments because I think they provide further ammunition that the mental and physical exhaustion,  depression and stress experienced by students in Race to Nowhere is largely unnecessary and self imposed. I’d love to hear what you think.

Alice Kleeman:

Lynn, I am 100% with you about Race to Nowhere. The implication is that students must force themselves into a frenzy if they want to go to a “good” college. Even the few colleges considered “good” by prestige- and selectivity-focused families are not asking students to drive themselves into the ground in order to be admitted! My most successful students had a very balanced, healthy, happy high school experience, and weren’t trying to impress anybody. (By successful, I mean they had many college options in senior year.)

As a parent, if my child said, “Mom, I really want to be in the school play,” I would say to her, “Gee, that sounds great! Which of the activities you’re involved in now would you like to put aside so you can be in the play without undue exhaustion and stress?” Parents do not have to allow their students to overdo; they should be on the front line in helping their kids make sanity-supporting decisions. That’s called … parenting! Jump off the crazy train; it’s not that hard to do.

I have the same issue with students who say they are burdened and stressed by taking five APs or participating in day-and-night activities. Stop! You have choices! You can choose sanity. If you blame colleges for your crazy-making decisions, let me assure you that I don’t know a single college that expects you to do this, not even the most highly selective colleges. And there are hundreds of colleges around the country where students can earn an amazing education that are delighted to admit healthy, balanced kids. ALL colleges hope to admit healthy, balanced kids.

Students who are seriously overdoing and paying a price for it will definitely not be happy at colleges where they’ll feel they have to continue that pattern.

I was sad to see the blame-throwing that marked this film. Parents and students: take personal responsibility for your own health and sanity. You will not be sorry. And you will have excellent college options, too.

Kris Hinz:

Lynn, I couldn’t agree with you more. I encourage clients in my college consulting practice to consider a broader range of colleges than the “usual suspect” elite schools on the Northeast Corridor Amtrak line. Rather than a linear climb to the top of a ranking system, I try to get families to see the college process as a journey of self-discovery and ideal matching (like a marriage!).

To combat Race to Nowhere stress, I would recommend the following to American students:

1. Dial up true love of academics (achievement will follow) from early childhood on. Academics are not surprisingly the most important factor in college acceptance. And academic focus ensures success once a student arrives at college.

2. Dial down obsessive extra-curriculars. They interfere with academics. At the same time, they burn kids out, allowing little time for family recreation, social and personal development. Most students do not get into college based on sports or performing arts, and do not even continue to pursue these activities in college. This is not to say kids shouldn’t enjoy extra-curriculars, they should just beware of crazed involvement.

3. Give some thought to what you’re really good at and might want to do with your life. Some of my students have given more thought to what position they want to play on the soccer team than what they might want to major in when they get to college. Sometimes by the time a kid knows what he likes, he has already spent a fortune on a few years of college and his school doesn’t even offer the programs he wants. So he takes an extra year to graduate, or has to start over.

4. Not everybody belongs in a liberal arts program. Some kids will thrive and contribute more to the world if they are trained for their true calling in a technical institute, a fine arts program, or a career college. The four year generalist model doesn’t work for everybody, and our society only needs so many anthropologists.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller and a workbook, Shrinking the Cost of College: 152 Ways to Cut the Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree. Follow her on Twitter.

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2 Responses to Phooey: Race To Nowhere

  1. Mary Kay January 26, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    A great post. As the parents of a daughter that doesn’t do tons of extra-curriculars this makes me feel that our parenting is okay. I think our daughter feels like she doesn’t measure up compared to some of her firends, but she doesn’t have the personality to be go, go, go all the time.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy January 26, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

      Mary Kay,

      I’m glad my post about the Race to Nowhere made you feel better. One of my children was much more involved in extracurriculars than the others and they both got into wonderful colleges.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

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