Film Review: Most Likely To Succeed Essay

During a recent PD session my school screened Most Likely To Succeed for the middle school and high school staff.

Unequivocally, this movie is a must see for any educator.

The first third of the moving provides a fascinating insight into the origins of school as we know it (Prussia? Really?!).  Needless to say, our public education system was set up to provide workers and soldiers for a growing industrial power. The curriculum we follow today was more or less set by a gang of 10 university heads at the end of of the 19th century. It sounds more nefarious than it really is, but it leaves no doubt that the very core of our educational system is antiquated. Students lugging textbooks around from room to room, bells, orderly rows of desks, everything we associate with school doesn’t have to be the way it is.

The second part of the movie takes an in depth look at High Tech High, a school that is none of those things. 

No bells.

No report cards. They have public showing of their work instead.

No curriculum. Teachers teach whatever they want.

No teaching to the test.

The differences don’t stop there. Teachers usually co-teach, and the focus on explore one or two areas in depth, rather than racing across the textbook from cover-to-cover. Fundamentally, they’ve replaced every arbitrary aspect of our education (bells, grades, curriculum even) and replaced it with some authentic and applicable to the lives of their students.

These are issues I wrestle with all the time. Why am I teaching what I teach? What is the point of grades? Why did I give them that assignment? 

Watching it took me through a range of emotions.

I recalled being a bored student back in high school, asking myself why am I doing this? 

I felt guilt at every hoop I’ve ever made my students through, for every assignment I’ve given because I needed “a grade in the grade book.”

It took me back to the teacher I wanted to be when I started: authentic, with assignments worth the while, and the learning useful for a lifetime.

The truth is, the way our school day is set up, it can be really hard to accomplish those aspirations. So many of our assignments are done for their own sake, they have no meaning past the grade on the paper, and get thrown away as soon as their passed back. The bell rings and students move on to the next 50 minute period. And as I’ve grown in my understanding of various aspects of teaching (feedback, better assessment, etc, etc), I’ve had to be careful not to lose touch with the passions that got me into the profession in the first place.  

There are critiques of High Tech High, and the movie covers some of them. It doesn’t give you the breadth of learning you’d get in a traditional school, focusing instead deeply on fewer areas. It doesn’t teach you to do well on tests, which is a concern for some students and many parents. It focuses heavily on soft skills, like teamwork and and collaboration. Yet despite its unorthodox approach to education it places 97% of its students in college, and beats the California average test scores by over 10%.

Most importantly, I would argue that the students coming from a school like that are better prepared for the world of today, and tomorrow. I would love to work in a place like High Tech High. If that’s the future of education in our country, then our future is bright. 

High School
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