Kids Run Ragged in a Race to Nowhere

The suicide death of Devon Marvin in 2008 sent shock waves through the Danville community. Why did she do it? Could it be because the 13-year-old honor-roll student had just received her first bad grade in math?


Every parent’s worst nightmare gave Lafayette filmmaker Vicki Abeles pause, especially when she considered her own three children. And then she took it a step further, creating the documentary Race to Nowhere to explore her questions.


The documentary has attracted thousands to local screenings across the Bay Area and beyond. It examines the educational stress and pressure placed on already overscheduled children and teens. It questions society’s obsession with testing and college entrance exams, and suggests that the pressure to perform is killing the desire to learn.


Abeles discussed the lessons of Race to Nowhere and why parents need to better advocate their children’s interest in the pursuit of education. For more information on Race to Nowhere and for a screening in your area, visit


Why is high school such a pressure cooker?


I think there is a great deal of fear driving the education system and culture today. We all need courage to step back and realize a person determines their success, not the name of the college he or she attended. We need to look closely at the impact of the unhealthy environment on young people whose minds and bodies are still developing. I’m advocating for balance.


What surprised you most during filming?


I think I was most surprised to learn that the pressures are being felt by kids everywhere, and that the college professors as well as employers are seeing the fallout of a system too focused on performance and preparation for tests. Spending so many years in the system we have today is creating a generation of robo-students. When they arrive to college and the workplace it’s hard for them to change the mindset of being taught to the test that’s been engrained for so long.


How does change begin? What can parents do?


Change can start in our homes and classrooms, in our school communities, and by creating a grassroots movement that will ultimately influence policymaking. I would advocate that a parent’s first responsibility is to safeguard the health and wellbeing of their children. If kids become unhealthy because of the pressures from our education system and culture, this becomes their fallback position later on when they encounter setbacks. We want our kids to be prepared for college and adulthood in so many areas that are not necessarily tied to test scores and GPAs – we want them to be resilient, to have integrity, to care about the world around them, to be problem-solvers and thinkers, to be contributing citizens and to develop a passion for learning that serves them throughout adulthood. In today’s system, we are stealing their childhoods and risking their futures.

Millicent Skiles is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent and a mother of two.
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