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Principal Shows Film Describing High School Pressures

Teaching vs. results, learning vs. memorization, happiness vs. pressure, health vs. stress-induced illness — the right choice seems so easy to make, but is that really all there is to it?

According to the new documentary, “Race To Nowhere,” it isn’t all that easy. The film discusses how due to pressures and the unhealthy way of teaching, students aren’t being helped; they’re being hurt.

The film was shown in the Dan Zollars Auditorium on Sept. 6 by the PTA to an audience of parents, students and teachers. Principal Dr. Karl Krawitz promoted the documentary in hopes of getting the message out to parents and educators.

“We do a great job of preparing kids to take tests — we don’t do them a good service getting them ready for life,” Krawitz said.

“Race To Nowhere” paints a vivid picture of the American education system.

According to the film, youth are being turned into “little professionals.” They are being “roboticized:” only learning information so that they can spit it back at test time and quickly forget it afterwards. In a culture where success and money is perceived as the ultimate goal, students leave their creativity and problem solving behind and instead learn from a “script.” They perform well, but don’t receive proper preparation for coping in a world that doesn’t have a script.

Principal Dr. Karl Krawitz sees similar patterns happening at East and completely agrees with this, one of the central themes of the film.

“We have what I would call ‘knowledge smart’ kids — I don’t think we have very intellectually smart kids,” Krawitz said. “There’s a difference — knowledge is the ability to take information in. To me, intelligence is the ability to use that knowledge for something, because if I don’t use it for something, why am I learning it? To take up space?”

Krawitz believes that this system of remembering information for the test, but not applying it to issues in real life isn’t what we should be doing.

“The point is in education, we’ve lost purpose, and unfortunately it’s happened because even in our profession, we have poor leadership,” Krawitz said.

When Krawitz was taking classes to become a school administrator, there were professors leading classes on teaching and school administration who had never even had any experience holding those positions. Instead of knowing how to teach and connect with the students from personal experience, they could only go by the book.

The film explains how teachers can essentially end up forgetting about helping and connecting to their students in the process of getting good test scores. This desire to achieve high scores is driven largely by numbers — teachers want to meet national standards and receive bonus payments for student performance.

“I think the testing industry has shaped American education in the wrong direction and unfortunately in our culture we’ve come to such a large acceptance of what it represents that we’re blinded by our own research,” Krawitz said. “It tells us it’s one of the worst things we should be doing.”

The documentary also addresses the issue of how many students are simply overloaded with things to do. Their schedules are filled with sports, clubs, church, volunteering and on top of all that – homework.

Senior Andy Hiett is taking five AP classes this semester in addition to playing on the varsity football team.

“I’ve done it a little bit before, but this year I kind of took a few more than I have in the past,” Hiett said. “It’s just hard playing a sport because you get home at night and you have a couple hours worth of homework to do, and if practice goes ‘til six or seven o’clock it’s tough to get it all done.”

For involved student-athletes such as Hiett, striking a balance between academics and athletics can be difficult. Practices that run late into the evening mean staying up late into the night working on homework.

“The first couple weeks we had practice, we’d get done at like six or so at night and you’d just be really tired and the last thing you want to do is turn and start working on your homework,” Hiett said.

In the film, a high school science teacher described how he had done away with homework, and test scores actually improved. “Race To Nowhere” goes on to discuss how reducing or doing away with homework actually makes students more eager to learn, because they aren’t burdened down with even more school after the final bell rings.

“I discovered one thing about learning that I didn’t have while I was in school, up through all my degrees,” Krawitz said. “I can enjoy learning when I don’t have to do it for anything.”

For more info on ending the “Race To Nowhere”, visit endtherace.org

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Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook is a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School. In addition to being a part of the Harbinger, he enjoys choir, debate, track, and playing the guitar. Read Full »

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