By Mike Myslinski
With the help of CTA Vice President Dean Vogel, Vacaville teachers in Solano County galvanized their community about education reform by screening the acclaimed new documentary film Race to Nowhere, holding a town hall discussion afterward.
Vogel led that discussion. “We can actually come together as a community,” he told the packed movie theater in Vacaville, his home school district of many years. “We can take our schools back.”
For educators, the 85-minute film is a more thoughtful look at public education hopes and problems than the well-financed documentary Waiting for Superman, a polarizing production that demonizes traditional public schools, teachers and their unions.
Julie Timmerman, a fourth-grade teacher at Markham Elementary School in Vacaville, told the Vacaville newspaper The Reporter that Waiting for Superman was a simplistic view of education that was unfair to teachers.
“It’s really hard to hear all of the teacher bashing going on right now.”
While focusing on the stresses that students face, Race to Nowhere also looks at the consequences of federal policies that force teachers to teach to the test instead of providing a well-rounded classroom experience.
In its September review of the movie, the New York Times described the effort by first-time filmmaker Vicki Abeles: “Packed with educators, parents, authors and articulate youngsters, Race to Nowhere reaches out to children hounded by a confluence of circumstances: parental fears of a disappearing middle class; an emphasis on unrealistic performance standards (the bell curve is not a fantasy); a teach-to-the-test curriculum that favors memorization over critical thinking; and the competitiveness of college entrance requirements.”
The makers of the film are using grassroots distribution tactics, urging teachers, parents and anyone else who wants to host a screening to go to www.racetonowhere.com for information on how to co-sponsor a viewing. And Vacaville Teachers Association chapter activist Corey Penrose did just that. He told The Reporter, which did a story promoting the screening, that the film really shows how the most fragile students are not getting the help they deserve. “The push to narrow the focus doesn’t help the kids who need additional support the most to be successful.”
Vacaville teachers received a grant from the CTA Community Outreach Department to create and air local radio ads promoting the Nov. 4 screening and discussion, with assistance from CTA Board member Larry Allen. Part of the ticket proceeds go to the film’s creators, with a portion going to the Vacaville Public Education Fund as well.
Vogel told the inspired crowd at Brenden Theatres after the movie that the teachers in the audience are the best hope for fair reforms. Educators want “to return to a comprehensive curriculum — the arts and science and music,” not to cut these vital programs. All math teachers understand the relationship between math and music and how students benefit from that, said Vogel.
“It’s all connected.”