1 post tagged Vicki Abeles
The New York Times calls Vicki Abeles’ film “a must see movie”; The Washington Post describes it as “A growing grass-roots phenomenon”; and a reviewer for the Huffington Post says ‘No Child Left Behind’ Means a Race to Nowhere.
I saw Race to Nowhere when it first came out, in 2010, at our local theater. Vicki was there that night, and spoke after the filming. I have long been a critic of the No Child Left Behind Act, as I have seen what it has done to our education system and today’s children. I am a big fan of preserving childhood and instilling a love of learning in children…and I am not a fan of kids being saddled down with piles of homework. That said, I was nodding my head throughout Vicki’s film. I applaud this woman for taking action, big-time!
Bio: Vicki Abeles, an ex-Wall Street lawyer and mother of three, turned filmmaker in 2007 to produce her first feature documentary, Race to Nowhere, a vivid portrayal of the pressure-cooker culture dominating America’s schools. Using a cutting-edge community distribution model that has showcased the film in more than 4,500 community-sponsored screenings, Abeles has brought Race to Nowhere to more than 1 million viewers nationwide. She lives with her family in the San Francisco area, and continues to produce films on issues affecting children, women and families. Additional credits include Associate Producer on the Sundance favorite Miss Representation and parent facilitator on Edutopia, part of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Peggy: You were a lawyer, with no filmmaker experience, when you decided to create Race to Nowhere. How did you get your idea off the ground?
Vicki: I started by talking to everyone I knew to better understand the experience of students today. And I set out to understand all I could about documentary filmmaking. I’m a connector and found in the Bay area a supportive community of filmmakers and other documentary professionals who were instrumental in guiding me throughout the production of the film.
We spent over 8 months researching the issues and speaking with students, parents, educators, pediatricians, psychologists, and child development experts. Even during this initial phase, I knew it was important to start filming, so I took out my camera and started shooting. In 6 weeks we produced an 18-minute film that was so well received it gave me the inspiration to continue capturing stories.
Instinctively, I always knew there was an important story to be told, and believed that a film would have the potential to reach large numbers of people and to inspire change.
Peggy: How long did it take to create the film? What is it in you that was able to see that process through?
Vicki: Production of the film was completed in about 20 months. My determination and commitment to inspire change that improves the lives of children was a big factor in seeing the film through to completion and also in our hybrid approach to distribution - maintaining our focus on using the film as a vehicle to bring communities together and spark action. Being fearless - unafraid to make mistakes and keep going - was also a big factor in seeing the process through.
Peggy: Did you expect Race to Nowhere to be so successful?
Vicki: Five years ago, I had an “Inconvenient Truth” moment around the way our culture has come to define success and the impact it is having on our children, our schools and our future. I believed in the power of the stories of students to tip the scales of public awareness and create the determination to take action to reclaim healthy childhood and inspire a new vision for education. Just after the Mill Valley Film Festival, we began to share the film in community settings with town hall style discussions following. It was clear that the film had hit a cultural nerve and the greatest hope for change would be in bringing communities together to see the film and discuss the issues and their vision for change.
Peggy: What changes did you make in your own family with regard to education and homework after you realized the pressures your children were under?
Vicki: With a good dose of self-reflection, humility and honesty, I knew that at the “end of the day” I simply wanted my children to be happy, healthy, independent, informed, resilient people who are contributing members of society. I took steps to simplify life for my family and prioritized time for relationships, play/downtime and sleep. I stopped asking about homework and grades. I didn’t want my children to see me as one more person measuring and comparing them. As parents, we are the most important people from whom our children seek approval, and I didn’t want them to think my approval or love was contingent on grades, test scores and trophies. We shifted our conversations to things they were excited about learning. I stopped checking the homework and was determined not to allow it to take over family life. Our children have the space to make mistakes and learn from them. Once I considered that what I ultimately wanted for my children - happiness and health - I set out to find ways to align our actions with our hopes for our children.
Peggy: What are you working on now?
Vicki: We’ve launched a call-to-action movement that is providing resources and a support network for parents, families, educators, medical professionals, policy makers and corporations seeking to measure educational achievement not through evaluation, busywork and competition (i.e. testing, homework and college admissions) but instead through a child’s successful embrace of personal challenge, a love of learning, and a sense of common purpose. I’m also working on a book and am in pre-production on my next documentary.
Peggy: How do you balance work and motherhood?
Vicki: Finding balance is an ongoing challenge. Not only is there the work I’m passionate about and all that goes with being a parent, but there’s the rest of life - friendships, extended family, marriage and my health. And with technology opening the floodgates of unlimited communication, and work weeks for us and our children spilling into evenings and weekends, finding quality downtime is a challenge and a priority for me. I find that I’m more productive at work and happiest at home when I make time to connect with friends, exercise, get outdoors, sleep and read a book. On a daily basis I remind myself to be present with whatever it is I’m doing. And there are days when I’m struck by the irony of the work I’m doing and my own challenges around finding balance.
Vicki: Definitely a morning person! I get about 7 hours of sleep a night.
Vicki: Spending time with those I’m closest to (especially my children), cooking, getting outdoors, and moving works wonders for me. And with work, it’s critical that I spend time in the communities screening and discussing Race to Nowhere - that’s the best resource for inspiration.
Vicki: I’m currently reading Rework on the topic of workaholism. (Excerpts can be found on its site: http://37signals.com/rework/.) There’s research that points to the detrimental effect of workaholism on leadership and management. There’s a parallel issue in our approach to raising and educating our children and adolescents.
Vicki: So many favorites when it comes to chocolate. Bridgewater Chocolate from Connecticut (try their bark), Cocobella in San Francisco, and my son introduced me to the best hot chocolate at Bittersweet Cafe. And there are usually plenty of Hershey’s kisses on hand at my office. And, as a filmmaker, I need to mention my favorite popcorn - 479 Popcorn (Fleur de Sel Caramel) in San Francisco!
Vicki: Naysayers may wrongly conclude that my message is about lowering the bar. Rather, I, along with hundreds of thousands of educators, parents, health care professionals and students are instead rebelling against the current culture with its emphasis on competition, test scores and resume building. I’m advocating for a new vision for education and childhood. If we truly want to improve the educational experience of our children, our focus should not be hinged on competition with other nations; it must begin with conscious parenting and education practices that address the development of the whole child – their intellectual, emotional and physical well-being. They center on developing creativity and critical thinking through project-based learning and fostering student engagement through collaboration. They support a model of parenting and education that encourages children to discover their individual talents and pursue their true passions. They don’t demand perfection. They don’t involve assigning more homework, prolonging the school day, or increasing assessment tests. Our schools need to be community institutions that nurture and inspire children.