I’m writing about education, so I’ll start with a pop quiz: Why do you study your spelling words?

My daughter’s middle school teacher recently asked the class this question. What would be your answer? It is a simple question, but it speaks to how what we value is often not reflected in what we reward in our schools and our society. New parents say “I just want her to be happy?” OK, then what’s up with the flash card drills at 18 months, the intense “enrichment” programs in the preteen years, and the four-year mad sprint to get into the perfect college that we used to quaintly call “high school”? Somewhere along the way, that parent switched gears. They may not come out and say it, but their mantra changed to “All I want is for her to be a high achiever.” And this high-pressure, high-stakes culture is hurting many of our kids.

A new documentary film, “Race to Nowhere,” makes this point through some powerful real-life stories. The film points to the silent epidemic in our schools: Cheating has become commonplace; students are disengaged; stress-related illnesses and depression are rampant; and many young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired.

Everyone wants to fix our schools, but to what end? Is raising test scores, achieved through more test preparation and more homework, really the best way to prepare our kids to thrive in life? Will that answer the young parent’s dream of raising a happy kid?

Or will the price we pay along the way — draining schools of “nonessential” and expensive creative endeavors and glossing over kids’ individuality in the name of “measurable” results, prove to be higher than we thought? We need a broader vision of success; one that includes achievement, but also much more: character, creativity, enthusiasm, curiosity and independence. These are vital characteristics of a happy person. We can, and must, do better by our kids.

Oh, and what about the pop quiz about your spelling words? You study your spelling words to become a better speller. Hope we all pass that test.

Oak Parker Peter Nolan is part of a group of local parents who have arranged a screening of “Race to Nowhere” at the Lake Theatre on Oct. 2 at 10 a.m. A Community Conversation will be held on Oct. 7, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Buzz Café, 905 S. Lombard.

If you go

  • “Race to Nowhere”
  • Oct. 2 at 10 a.m.
  • Lake Theatre, 1022 Lake St.
  • A conversation will be held Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Buzz Café, 905 S. Lombard.

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