Reimagining Education: Most Likely to Succeed

On Tuesday, March 28th, Brewster High School hosted the screening of documentary and best-selling novel Most Likely to Succeed, by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith. This documentary is compelling and pertinent to our times in terms of educational value; whether you’re a child in school, a faculty member, administration member, or parent, there is an important lesson to be learned, and the unorthodox method of teaching introduced by this documentary may just be what students need to truly be successful.

Most Likely to Succeed debunked the education system and its traditional structure, beginning 124 years ago, during the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. In 1843, the Prussians styled a system of learning similar to their organized armies: they divided up instruction by age, ability and subject matter. Horace Mann, a well-known reformer for American education, brought this knowledge back with him to the U.S., where it was enacted by the fathers of the Industrial Revolution. Eventually the Committee of Ten, a working group of educators, developed the standard curriculum which outlined a set of must-know subjects, that we all recognize today: English, modern language, math, and the sciences.

This educational curriculum has not changed since 1892: and that’s where things get hairy.

By the late 90s, we began to realize that middle class income shrunk, while the economy grew, leading us to hire fewer and fewer people. On top of that, computers began to replace human activity. The biggest exponential boom of technology began with 7 supercomputers built by IBM. One computer was able to beat a world champion chess player. Another, Watson, defeated a 73-time Jeopardy winner. As computers and robots grew smarter and more capable, we started to question: What do people do for a living when mental power and muscle power are both no longer relevant?

It’s current day. We have now entered the Innovation Era, filled with out-of-this-world technology and machines that do our jobs for us. As for students in school, there is no more being “perfectly average,” and the job market is increasingly competitive. Living in a society in constant flux, many are realizing that some things in our lives need serious improvement: and it all has to do with the future of our children. 

Enter High Tech High School, an unconventional, yet effective public high school which boasts 50% lower income, less micromanaging, and a socioeconomically diverse student body. With no bells, no division of time, and combined subjects, students experience an atypical amount of intellectual freedom. In addition, teachers can teach however they want and as much as they want.

But how are students assessed? To understand that, we must explore so called “soft skills,” otherwise known as valuable traits that students actually need to become successful: traits like confidence, collaboration, perseverance, time management, autodidacticism, critical thinking, and empathy. See, it’s not the retention of knowledge that’s important—after all, content is free, thanks to the internet. But skills that teach kids how to apply their learnings and be active in their jobs will benefit them far more than the memorization of disposable knowledge. 

When it comes to college, students are used to focusing on factual recall tests such as the SAT or ACT, yet it’s fruitless to assess students in such an unrealistic environment. After all, you will never be asked to sit down and regurgitate information in the form of a three hour test. The internet is our greatest resource and asset! We must use it for our own benefit. Standardized methods neglect the fact that students are people with real feelings and real motivations. This nation is obsessed with numbers, and standardized tests are a way for our country to aggrandize its numerical improvement. But students need to stop being treated like just another data point. And High Tech High is out to change that.

Here, students are judged by long term group projects planned around a large public exhibition. This gives students a chance to create something with a sense of purpose and demonstrate their growth tangibly, but without the grades. This system fulfills an education that values the planting, growing, and evolution of a promising student. Gardeners can’t make a seed grow, but they can create the right conditions for it to happen.

Most Likely to Succeed addresses the faults of our education but offers a potentially transformative solution which will guarantee success and better prepare students for the upcoming era. We must realize that 65% of today’s grade-school children will end up in jobs that haven’t been invented yet; millennials will have 15-20 jobs over the course of their working lives; and creativity will become one of the top three skills in demand by 2020, according to the World Economic Forum. Our Superintendent of Schools, Dr.Valerie Henning-Piedmonte stresses the importance of the Strategic Coherence Plan because it’s critical to the work of the system. She says, “content is no longer king,” meaning we need to start guiding students in a direction that accommodates for this changing time. It’s imperative if we want this generation to have a successful future. 

If you ever have the chance, read Most Likely to Succeed. It will rethink the way we approach education and will redefine success in a way that tailors to the unfamiliar territory of the Innovation Era. Get involved with your school board and raise your voice: before you know it, the norms of education will be completely reimagined.


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