I was there the first time she used.
I actually gave her access to her drug without realizing what I was doing. And it took just a few times to get her hooked. I was a complete enabler.
This fall, my daughter became dangerously addicted to grades.
If I hadn’t watched Race to Nowhere last week, I may not even have realized how dangerous this addiction could become. The movie tells the stories of many children who are on the fast track to get into college, doing homework for hours, trading away sleep and food, just so they can get the grades they need to get into a “good” school.
And when one student got a “B”, she killed herself. She was 13. It was her first “bad” grade.
In addition to grades, they have to have a sport, do community service, embrace extra-curricular activities like drama or art or music all in an insane rush to a finish line that accepts kids with 4.35 GPAs. In case you are wondering how in the heck one gets a 4 point anything, it comes from taking AP classes which pile on the work even higher (read this message board conversation if you want to make yourself a little sick).
Needless to say, this movie captured my attention. Katie really never had letter grades before. We did home school last year and I pulled her from the mess that was fourth grade where they weren’t using letter grades yet. Enter Middle School where they have something called the Parent Portal and you can see how you are doing day-by-day. Test by test. Let the addiction begin.
I had been slightly worried she was so obsessed with her grades, but I also shared her excitement as she was able to study more and get better grades. For the last four weeks, she’s been getting 100 on everything which, bytheway, they addictively call an A+ – which is simply non-sense, it’s an A. But this adds a kick to the high doesn’t it?!
So I confronted Katie about her addiction when I got home from the movie. She said it wasn’t a problem. She wasn’t hooked. So I waited. I wanted to see how long she could go without looking. And then I asked her a harder question: had she ever cheated to make sure she got an A. That was harder to answer.
Finally, I told her she could NOT do extra credit the next morning for a class where she already had an A. She got a little distressed; she was convinced she needed the “safety net”. It’s sixth grade! The class is an elective! What the hell kind of safety net does she need!?!
“Mom, grades still matter. It’s not like I can’t care about them,” she said. And she’s totally right. But boy am I thinking about things differently. First, we are curbing the addiction. Then I am going to start showing her colleges that don’t require a 4.35. I am going to make sure my child knows how to think (not just take tests) and revive some of that home school parent involvement I am missing from last year – so the lesson goes beyond the books and papers.
And then I am going to encourage her to put everything down and get silly with me.
I am not going to lose her to this madness.
Have you seen Race to Nowhere? I would love to hear your impressions and thoughts. And ideas you have for coping within the parameters of public education.

About the film:
Featuring the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids, Race to Nowhere points to the silent epidemic in our schools: cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired. Here’s a list of screenings in the U.S.