Race to Nowhere

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Race to Nowhere Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Compelling docu looks at academic pressures faced by teens.
  • PG-13
  • 2010
  • 85 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 13 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The documentary offers a frank look at the heavy pressures high school students face to succeed at school -- and how that strain is increasing and trickling down to younger and younger kids.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although the kids shown here all seem like average students trying their best to get good grades and earn college acceptances, the pressures they face are so strong that some turn to cheating or display various types of adverse reactions, including depression and eating disorders.


Signage for a few well-known test-prep centers, including Kumon and Sylvan.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this documentary about the educational system -- like Waiting for "Superman" -- examines a subject that may hit very close to home: Is our culture placing too much pressure on young people to be uber-successful, pushing them to the edge of exhaustion or worse? The question is difficult because it forces us to examine our own preconceptions about parenting and education. Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile watch for both parents and older kids and could launch great family discussions about expectations and school pressure.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byKerry D. April 6, 2018

Must see for parents, educators and mature teens

Our children's physical, emotional and mental well being are so much more important than society's narrow view of them based on grades and achievement... Continue reading
Adult Written byMA11 March 28, 2018

Great Movie

If you have children you will want to watch this movie. This movie is showing a new path for our children. Far too many children are not having a childhood an... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

Are our high schoolers overstressed and overtaxed? In RACE TO NOWHERE, filmmakers Vicki Abeles and Jessica Congdon speak to educators, parents, tweens, and teens about the pressures they face academically and emotionally, and the physical toll these expectations exact. What results is a picture of a fractured educational system that pushes kids to become successful -- but at a cost.

Is it any good?

If feeling queasy because of what you’ve watched is a measure of how good a documentary is, then Race to Nowhere definitely succeeds. If you have a high-schooler, the film will either have you second-guessing their academic and extracurricular load or patting yourself on the back if you’ve been careful about making sure that they’re not overwhelmed. The film will certainly stir up loads of examination and debate, and rightfully so. Told in classic documentary style, it's pretty effective.

Still, there are some quibbles: Though East Coasters and Floridians are included in the mix of sources, the film is peopled heavily by Californians. Which would be fine, except the movie is questioning the nation’s obsession with academic success; a more varied sample might have made a better case. And it’s not clear whether the problems described in the movie are endemic in both public and private schools, and whether that makes a difference. Still, it’s a compelling film that will leave both teens and parents of high school students thinking.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what high school and college have become in this country. Is it really a “race to nowhere"? Why?

  • What is this movie trying to say about the current state of education? Can the damage be undone? What resources do educators need to do their jobs more effectively?

  • Does this documentary approach its subject matter objectively, or does it have an opinion? Is it OK for a documentary to take a specific stance on the topic it's covering?

Movie details

  • In theaters: September 10, 2010
  • On DVD or streaming: July 19, 2011
  • Directors: Jessica Congdon, Vicki Abeles
  • Studio: Reel Link Films
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Run time: 85 minutes
  • MPAA rating: PG-13
  • MPAA explanation: thematic material involving stress on adolescents
  • Last updated: September 20, 2019

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