Saturday, September 11, 2010

On Superman, Race To Nowhere, and Other Stuff

Dear Stuffers - or Stuffed if you happen to be an ATR - and Stiffed too,

As usual, Friday was a busy day at Ed Notes Central. With wife, who retired from her 3 day a week job last February, now joining the weekly Friday MahJong festivities, I am free to roam all over the city.

We had a production meeting at 3pm at a Greek restaurant on W. 4th and 6th Ave scheduled to discuss our new film in response to the Waiting for Superman hedge hog extravaganza coming up in 2 weeks, followed by attending the opening of Race To Nowhere, a sort of antidote to the Superman film, though not quite. (See review in the Times.)

First up was a pickup of the new Indypendent "Back to School Issue" (Download the pdf - upper right hand corner: . at their offices on Broadway and Bleecker.

I wasn't driving in on a Friday afternoon so I bought a backpack. Oy! GEM ordered 1500 copies for distribution. That's 15 bundles of 100 each. These suckers are 20 pages each packed full of goodies. The intention was to put them in a shopping cart the Indy people would loan us to wheel across town to 6th Ave. and then wheel back to return. But it only held 6 bundles. My colleague had a brilliant solution: Take a cab. I almost gagged. But it made sense. We were helped down by Liz from Indy who hailed us a cab - young and pretty works well in this town.

So we showed up at Karavas with 700 copies. Another GEM committee meeting was just breaking up and we loaded as many onto the backs of the people who were leaving and divided the rest  amongst those who were staying for the film production meeting. I still have to go back and get 800 more on Monday. If you want some for your schools contact me at The Indy people will be at the Sept. 22 chapter leader meeting to hand some out.

Well, anyway, the production meeting was full of fun and frolic over some beer and Greek platter food. I will be talking more about the film in upcoming updates and you might even be able to get involved in some of our activities to promote the film (email me offline if interested in a heads up.)

And then it was onto the IFC for Race to Nowhere (lots of good stuff at the web site and check out the trailer), shown in one of the smaller venues but with stadium seating - not a great idea for an older guy like me who just had some beer and Greek food. But the movie kept me awake. The story is about the pressure kids are feeling over their total lives being scheduled and tested. Lots of anti-testing stuff there and anti homework too. Interesting ideas for discussion and totally counter to the ed deform agenda. But for a Debbie Meier admiring teacher who wanted to teach in a progressive open classroom environment but never could, I eat up this stuff. I ruefully remember the day I gave up the idea after being convinced kids had to be driven to succeed. Well, it was my school culture and certainly infests the charter school movement with their "scholars."

As Steve Koss says, check out the Obama daughters school website - Sidwell Friends - or the Chicago U Lab school where they used to go - and see what the Obamas want for their kids but not for all the others that are being pushed by the ed deform agenda.

After the film we got to chat with some of the people involved. A group of Columbia U students were there and we made contact. I gave out Ed Notes cards and one of them said she read the blog. How cool! She said she really liked the satire. I didn't have the heart to tell her that what she thinks is satire is really just ed deformers being ed deformers and BloomKlein being BloomKlein.


  1. OMG, what kind of shit is this that the Obama girls can attend classes that have class size of up to 16 students in each class! The following is from Sidwell Friends website:
    Class Groupings
    All classes, with the exception of one third grade and one fourth grade, have team teachers. Individual class sizes range from one teacher for every ten students in the lower grades to one teacher for every 16 students in some fourth grade classes.

    Academic Support
    A full-time Learning Specialist provides support for students who experience learning difficulties. If necessary, students may be referred to a consulting diagnostician for further evaluation.


    This pisses me off. Teachers in NYC have 34 students in each of their classes (HS) and we're expected to have our students, who come to HS unprepared to learn, underdeveloped skills, with so much socio-economic and emotional challenges, to master the high demands of high school and to prepare them for college. Obama is full of shit! Now I'm pissed off. How the hell did we fall for this wolf in sheep's clothing? I feel duped.

  2. Here you teachers go again - making excuses. We don't care if you have 80 in a class and work 24 hours a day. Your students should score better than Obama's kids. It's the quality of the teaching you know. Next time you see Obama ask him how his kids' teachers' value added scores rank. See if Sidwell Friends even knows what that concept means.

  3. Shame -- what a terrible movie to show to a sensitive teenager. Teenagers are very sensitive and can easily be influenced, positively or negatively. They hear what they want to hear. This dejected movie tells them, at least for the first 20 or so minutes, don't do homework, don’t fall into parents pressure, don't take any after school activity, or don't drive to be the best!
    Tells the teachers: don't give homework, don't push them to learn, or don't ask the teens to do anything. The movie tells the parents: don't pressure your children to do their best, don't help them to pursue their dreams, and don't ask them to do anything. What should they do then? It is left to the viewer.

    Right from the beginning, it is obvious that the amateur filmmaker Vicki Abeles, has been depressed, has had problems with her family, especially with medical and emotional problems of her own three children, and has been under the impression that the suicide of a teenager is related to school.

    The first time movie maker claims that she is exploring the culture of high achievement within her own family, her Bay Area community and around the country. The one sided interviews with selected students, parents, teachers and academicians in a selected area (only four cities) points out the negatives of our educational process. And that is a shame.

    But, certainly this is not her intention. The stated goal of the film is "to foster dialogue." What she wants to stress is the issues, problems, and test-centered education as a result of the no-child-left-behind idea. Then, if this is the case, why she does not point to the fact that these are the issues that the parents, teachers, and politicians need to be aware of and start to initiate a dialogue for change. Why the issue of homework is over emphasized? And why the movie, through repeated interviews with selected individuals claims that everything which goes wrong with teenagers, has to do with the pressure of overachievers. Is the suicide of a 13-year old student associated with a failing grade in a course? Couldn't it be related to the fact that she had been depressed for a while, but her parents did not realize it to get professional help? Couldn't it be related to the fact that any teenager can go through a critical period during the adolescence, but the teachers and parents need to be opening their eyes? And finally, why the title of the movie is "Race to Nowhere", rather than being "Issues, Pay Attention?" Race to nowhere implies to the teenagers that there is no future, why bother.

    Probably the intention of first time movie maker is to depict the issues that teenagers are facing, the problem with our educational systems or the need for change. Unfortunately, certain critical issues have been negatively overemphasized. How can a coach teach someone to play basketball? Certainly, not by recommending to sit on a couch and listen; rather, to ask the player to practice, and practice, and practice. What is the point of repeated interview of "homework" is bad? The point is the overdose of anything is bad.

    Finally, she gets it right; at the end of the movie, she summarizes the main points in a writing form; for example parents should ask children how they feel, reduce performance pressure, or know the signs of childhood depression; educators should evaluate each student on an individual basis, engage students in learning, or recognize the unique talents of each individual. Students should speak to the adults, get plenty of sleep, or do things that they enjoy.


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