Most Likely to Succeed

Most Likely to Succeed ★★★½

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.

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