"You are a beautiful expression of the possibilities of The Universe."
--Graffiti in the girl's bathroom at The Nova Project
Last week I went with a friend to see the documentary film Race to Nowhere. I had never heard of the movie and had no idea what to expect. I was blown away.
The film documents what is wrong with the American education system not by putting the focus on our poor and under-performing schools, but by focusing on some of our country's best schools.
Featuring interviews with kids and educators, the film documents the increasing pressure on our kids to perform and succeed, often at the cost of their childhoods, their happiness, and sometimes even their lives.
I have to admit it gave me pause - and made me consider homeschooling.
According to this film, children as young as third grade are feeling overwhelmed by the pressures put on them at school. They are suffering from stomachaches, headaches, panic attacks, and some are even taking their own lives.
The irony? Kids under this kind of pressure actually do WORSE in school than kids who have more freedom and less pressure.
It made me really glad that we had a "choice day" scheduled for the next day.
"Choice day" is something we came up with last year when my kids wanted a day off from school, but were not sick. I know that sometimes I just need a day off and figured the kids deserved the same. Since it was a half day the next day, it seemed the perfect opportunity to take a choice day.
What did we do? A whole lotta nothin'. And by the end of the day, I could see the difference in them, feel the difference in them. They were more relaxed, less intense, happier....
Last year I went for a run with friend who also has a kid in elementary school. Inevitably we started talking about homework and how hard it is sometimes to get our kids to sit down and focus on it, how frustrating this gets for all of us and what we can do about it.
After sharing our stories and strategies for a few minutes there was a pause in the conversation and then he said, "The bottom line is, I just want my daughter to be happy. If she is happy, I will consider that a success."
Amen to that my brother. Amen to that.
But what does happiness mean?
Does it mean success? Does it mean getting what you want? Does it mean helping others?
This is the BIG QUESTION that we are all trying to answer for ourselves, but if we have children for them too.
WHAT IS HAPPINESS? HOW DO WE ACHIEVE IT? HOW DO WE HELP OUR KIDS ACHIEVE IT?
And that is a question that every person, every parent has to answer for themselves. I am just grateful to this movie for reminding me to ask the question.
NB: I saw the movie at The Nova Project, a local alternative school for kids who don't do well in traditional educational settings. The school, while a bit run-down and certainly not "state of the art" in any way, was full of signs (some in the form of graffiti) that this was a place where kids were loved and supported and learning....to be the greatest expression of themselves. In other words, learning how to be happy.