Most Likely to Succeed

Directed by Greg Whiteley

Starring Scott Swaaley

The current educational system in the United States was developed a century ago during the rise of the industrial age and was once the envy of the world. However, the world economy has since transformed profoundly, but the US education system has not. Schools are attempting to teach and test skills, when mastered, that still leave graduates woefully unprepared for the 21st Century. After presenting this problem, the documentary focuses on the story of a school in San Diego that is completely rethinking what the experience of going to school looks like. As we follow students, parents and teachers through a truly unorthodox school experience, the audience is forced to consider what sort of educational environment is most likely to succeed in the 21st century?


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  • ★★★★½ review by bigtunalwhs on Letterboxd

    Interesting doc with unique perspective on the issue. Big Tuna on Film - Most Likely to Succeed

  • ★★★½ review by Foster Bass on Letterboxd

    Interesting look at some of the thinks that are wrong with our educational system and an alternative approach.

  • ★★★★ review by Sonia on Letterboxd

    AFI Docs

  • ★★★½ review by Shaun Munro on Letterboxd

    Director Greg Whiteley (Mitt) takes a swift swipe at the American education system in this evidently personal documentary film, where Whiteley finds his own young daughter bored with school and begs the question; what's the problem?

    If the film's argument is to be believed (which it can be very easily), then standardised testing and an overall homogenised approach to educating the current generation is to blame. Through a relatively long-winded but nevertheless entertaining story about an MIT-built machine which beat the human Jeopardy champion, it's noted that technology is going to progressively take both physical and mental jobs away from people, and what can possibly be done if education hasn't prepared young people for this eventuality?

    The American curriculum and educational schema has largely remained unchanged for over 100 years, and that's exactly what San Diego's publically-funded High Tech High seeks to reject. Its stand-out features include a "Socratic" seating formation, a total lack of bells and periods, intermingling of different subjects, and teachers having the freedom to do pretty much whatever they want (yet one-year contracts hold them to a sure level of accountability), while rather than take exams designed to test rote mental regurgitation, a final exhibition of a long-form project is used to assess students' progress.

    Smartly, Whiteley approaches the rather reasonable concerns that both parents and students have, namely whether there will be any gaps in knowledge due to the more specialised focus. Of course, the inevitable answer is that nobody will really know if this experiment works on a grand scale for another decade or so, but the passion, talent and emotional availability of the educators involved is undeniable, leading up to the movie's "finale" that is the anxiety-stricken exhibition night.

    It's certainly touching to see one of the school's more timid students, Samantha, finding her voice as a play director, and the progress that the students make from the beginning of the year to the end is self-evident. Naturally, however, there will be those for whom this education model just won't connect, and though it's a tad disappointing that the movie pretty much shies away from this, the argument for the system's benefits remains highly convincing.

    Unquestionably biased and weighed down by some mostly needless narration, Most Likely to Succeed still soars as a hopeful, fiercely well-argued and infectiously enthusiastic doc sure to provoke much debate about the modern state of education not only in the US, but around the world also.

  • ★★★★ review by Liz Schubert on Letterboxd

    Excellent film on changing how we educate our kids.

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