Directed by parent and first-time filmmaker Vicki Abeles, "Race to Nowhere" is marketed through a kind of partnership with local schools. The film suggests that if there are problems in American education, they are largely due to standardized tests, overambitious parents, insufficient funding, and George W. Bush. It also offers possible solutions, which include abandoning testing and grading and giving teachers more autonomy....she is moving full speed ahead to hire companies in Washington to lobby for policy changes suggested in the film...
Parents in New Jersey suburbs have received numerous emails about the film and its upcoming show times from parent-teacher associations. Ms. Abeles and the schools split the revenue from ticket sales, but the director told the crowd in Bergen County that she is holding off on a DVD retail release while she explores a possible broadcast on PBS. She also said she is moving full speed ahead to hire companies in Washington to lobby for policy changes suggested in the film.
Ms. Abeles argues that U.S. education is focused too much on giving kids "things to memorize and regurgitate," instead of developing the critical thinking skills that will be most useful in solving problems and thriving later in life.
Jeanne Allen, who leads the Center for Education Reform in Washington, reports that her sister back in Bergen County is one of those Jersey parents receiving a blizzard of email pitches to see the movie. Ms. Allen says that if U.S. tests are flawed it is because they demand that kids memorize too few facts, not too many. "You can't teach critical thinking," she says. She argues that kids cannot possibly develop problem-solving skills without a base of knowledge. How can one analyze a piece of literature, she asks, without knowing any vocabulary? Can students solve math problems without being able to multiply and divide?
Whether Ms. Abeles is ultimately advocating necessary reform or simply the latest educational fad, anything that changes the subject from unfunded pension liabilities is probably good news for the New Jersey teachers union. But that doesn't mean all the state's teachers will be thrilled if Ms. Abeles is successful.
Some of the most passionate advocates for rote memorization of critical facts can be found among the faculty in New Jersey public schools, a state that has traditionally scored highly on the standardized tests that may be going out of fashion. To put it another way, New Jersey may have more to lose from another nationwide shift in educational policy than states that are consistently ranked near the bottom.
Do American Students Study Too Hard?
By JAMES FREEMAN
APRIL 30, 2011
Well, more power to her - but what about parents and teachers who like memorization and standardized tests?
We're out of luck.
For me, this is further evidence that we simply must have choice. Let the teachers and parents who want critical thinking without memorization have critical thinking without memorization.
Let the teachers and parents who want memorization and knowledge have memorization and knowledge.
critical thinking without content
In a recent comments thread, I mentioned visiting a Cambridge Pre-U Global Perspectives class at a local high school. The teacher and principal told us proudly that the class was "not content-rich." That was the selling point. Not content rich.
All of the other courses the school offered, they said, were content-rich. This was a bad thing. In the content-rich classes, they said, students memorized but did not think. In Global Perspectives, students engaged in "critical thinking" and did not memorize.
So what happens in a class that is content-poor?
Students Google op-eds and feature stories and look for "bias."
For me, the idea of spending a year and a half (the course consumed 3 semesters and replaced English) Googling op-eds and looking for bias is almost unspeakably dreary: not enough to keep the mind alive.
But the principal loved it, and the two team teachers loved it, and the other parent in our group loved it.
So let them create and attend the schools they believe in, and let the rest of us create and attend the schools we believe in.
Live and let live.
Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach? (pdf file)