'Race to Nowhere' highlights hyped-up culture of achievement in our schools - VIDEO


I just watched a riveting documentary called "Race to Nowhere," which features the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink in this hyped-up culture of achievement in our schools.

Our public school sponsored a free viewing to ring the alarm bells in parents and educators who pack their kids’ schedules with mountains of homework, activities and, worst of all, the expectation of perfection.

I never had to deal with that kind of pressure growing up.

Sure, I entered kindergarten in the long shadow of my older cousins Debbie, Linda, Robert and Diane.

They were all conscientious, hard-working students that would rather rip up and re-write a full page of perfectly handwritten work then turn in a paper with a smudge or a folded corner. I was encouraged to be like them by Mom.
No, scratch that. My mom would sweat blood over her rosary beads praying for me to be a thoroughbred student but, alas, her horse in the race was limping toward the glue factory academically.



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I was a B and C student growing up, sloppy as the day as long, and unable to concentrate on my lessons for very long and hopeless in organizing my uncomplicated life. “Needing poster board at 11 o’clock at night is now my problem?” screeched Mom as I panicked over the science project I forgot was due in the morning.

My little brother came up from behind, passing me by as he devoured the books and demonstrated the same perfectionist tendencies as our cousins.

Add to the fact that he was a drumming child prodigy and an outstanding soccer player and you had plenty of bragging fodder for a mother in need.

It took the emphasis off of me and I suspect it left my parents praying for more, doubting I’d amount to much, but hoping for the best for me nonetheless.

Yet they never gave up on me. By some miracle that only a wad of dead president flash cards could produce, I found my way into an exclusive private school known for its academic discipline.

St. Joseph’s is a scholastic powerhouse nestled in the leafy suburbs of Metuchen, New Jersey, and I was sent there by the grace of hard work and sacrifice by my middle class parents.

If I had given birth to a bulb as dim as I was, I never would have plugged him into a high-watt school like that. I would have saved the money and bought a lifetime supply of fry-cook pants for my kid, but my folks were committed to fulfill the immigrant dream to have your kids turn out better than you did at all costs.

I suppose that was the one constant undercurrent of pressure that might be a distant cousin to the stress and urgency that kids in the Race to Nowhere film were suffering.

There was also the expectation that you rose above the kinds of jobs your parents were doing to put you through school and, by God, you best not do anything that would embarrass your last name in the church parish.

The thought of the wrath of God that came down on my head when I did something that got the church ladies talking ill of my family terrified me at the time. Now, I almost expect it to happen each week the Irish Voice publishes an edition or another novel is written!

There were other subtle pressures as well. “You’re not living off me past 25, and if you find yourself in jail or spitting out a child before marriage you can lose our number,” my father would say.

I wonder today if my school track record would be different if I popped the potpourri of pharmacological candy that is available nowadays for every sliver of species on the attention deficit spectrum.

I know I had it back then and I have a touch of it as I write this -- jumping from column to Facebook to playing with the Joker Pez dispenser on my desk, to fumbling with my text messages and then back to this column again!