Through much of the 20th century, the third rail of American politics was Social Security—touch at your own risk. But that debate pales in comparison to the caustic 21st century debate over public education. So it should have come as no surprise as a fully-engaged audience filled the Sun Valley Opera House Wednesday evening, anxious to watch the opening film of the fourth annual Sun Valley Film Festival: Most Likely to Succeed.
“If you’re chasing test scores, you will lose that game,” said the film's director, Idaho-native Greg Whiteley, speaking to an audience, which included many educators and parents. Whiteley, whose 2014 film Mitt
propelled him onto the short list of premiere documentarians, said he spent the better part of two years turning his lens toward public education. His end result will, no doubt, get people talking.
In an opening sequence of Most Likely to Succeed
, we see Whiteley’s own young daughter sobbing through a particularly painful parent-teacher conference, as her grade-school teacher touts the importance of homework. As the camera tightens on the young girl's face, we hear Whiteley’s narration.
“I know that face,” says Whiteley. “That’s the face that says, ‘This is bullshit. This whole thing called school is bullshit.’”
The moment got a big laugh from the audience, but most parents may also feel their hearts sink in an all-too-familiar scene of frustration with the status quo.
Most Likely to Succeed
spends the lion’s share of its time visiting a California charter school—some place called High Tech High—which refuses to “teach to the test” and instead spends much of its energy on logic, confidence building and time management.
My sense is that this film will find its share of critics, particularly from public teachers unions, when they see that High Tech High insists that much of its success is based on one-year, no-tenure teacher contracts. But any conversation regarding public education is a conversation worth having. And to that end, Most Likely to Succeed
is a must-see.