“Race to Nowhere” Film Inspires Jackson Community to Voice Need for Change in Education
October 28, 2011 - Over 225 concerned West Tennessee parents, students, administrators, teachers, and community members ventured out on a cold, rainy Tuesday night to attend Union University’s screening of the film “Race to Nowhere,” which chronicles 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.
Dr. Thomas Rosebrough, Union University’s Executive Dean of the College of Education and Human Studies, moderated a discussion following the film. He explained why the School of Education hosted the event: “I think we needed to screen the film for the community because of not only the sense of frustration with the current problems that we are facing in American education, but also the so-called solutions that are making problems worse. Some of the most pressing issues addressed in the film are about the excesses of the achievement culture in education today -- which means that our schools have become achievement-centered, even test-centered, instead of student-centered. There were many parents in attendance tonight and many of us hope that parents can understand that they have a great deal of power to change things. Perhaps this film has helped those who saw it understand that we are not alone in this frustration that we feel with our schools, a frustration that is perhaps pandemic in our American schools right now.”
The participants in the moderated panel included: Dr. Greg Thornbury, Dean of School of Theology and Missions at Union University; Dr. Versie Hamlett, a district-level administrator in the Jackson Madison County School System; Mr. Steve Maloan, Principal of Medina Middle School; and Dr. Roman Williams, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Union University. The diversity of the panelists offered a variety of perspectives about the film. Thornbury addressed the film from a theological viewpoint, while Hamlett and Maloan made reference within the context of currently serving on the front lines of local schools. Williams viewed the film from the perspective of sociology, as it pertains to student life and family dynamics.
From a sociological perspective, Williams said, students are “continually pressed to think about, to evaluate, to be reflexive about the social world they live in and then to pursue the sorts of agendas their parents have socialized them into. If that agenda does not include some level of creativity, some down time to allow that to flourish, then I would say that there are serious problems here and it’s a myopia of sorts.”
Maloan, speaking as a principal, highlighted that he has seen an increase in the number of his faculty who are asking for conferences with him. As his teachers are feeling the pressures of being evaluated on the results of student test scores, they increasingly want to meet with him. Likewise, he emphasized that education has started to embrace a business-like approach, as never before.
Hamlett also recognized the pressures that are being put on students. From a personal perspective, she told of how she was heavily affected by seeing how much homework her nephew had to complete on the night she was recently baby-sitting him. Given this experience and her educational knowledge, she encourages her teachers to educate students from a holistic perspective.
Thornbury, in addition to addressing the film from a theological perspective, spoke as a parent of two young daughters. He emphasized the amount of pressure being placed on students is intense.
Audience concern was voiced over the fact that the focus in schools is on high-stakes testing and meeting standards rather than students’ learning critical thinking skills and problem solving. Rosebrough commented on why finding a balance between the academic and the social is a key. “Good teachers are still teaching kids, they are finding ways to meet standards as by-products of good teaching processes. Change is needed in the system; however, those with the knowledge don’t have the power to change things, and those with the power to change things don’t have the knowledge.” Dr. Ann Singleton, Associate Dean of the School of Education, concurred, “We cannot underestimate how important the school leader role is in creating solutions that can change the culture of education.”
Many educators were also in the audience, representing both public and private schools as well as elementary, secondary, and higher education. The film motivated educators to rethink their lesson plans with one teacher commenting that she was on her way home to make some adjustments. “This film just really made me think, and I’m going to make some changes,” stated educator Monnie DeBerry. This grass roots response is a source of hope for Singleton, who reflected: “The educating of a child is so much more than testing. When you think back to the good teachers in your life -- those who had an impact on your life -- it was the relationship that made the difference. What gives me hope is that when we reflect on those good teachers who made a difference, it was the one-on-one relationship that mattered.”
Perhaps the importance of the film and the issues addressed can be summed up in Rosebrough’s reflection, “We must realize that education is a journey, not a race.”
Related Web Resource: http://www.uu.edu/news/release.cfm?ID=1889