Most Likely to Succeed

David Brooks, an op-ed writer for the New York Times, examines the new documentary, Most Likely to Succeed and analyzes the claims it makes about the current state of the American Education system:

Greg Whiteley’s documentary, Most Likely to Succeed, argues that the American school system is ultimately built on a Prussian model designed over 100 years ago. Its main activity is downloading content into students’ minds, with success or failure measured by standardized tests. This lecture and textbook method leaves many children bored and listless.

Worse, it is unsuited for the modern workplace. Information is now ubiquitous. You can look up any fact on your phone. A computer can destroy Ken Jennings, the world’s best “Jeopardy!” contestant, at a game of information retrieval. Computers can write routine news stories and do routine legal work. Our test-driven schools are training kids for exactly the rote tasks that can be done much more effectively by computers.

The better approach, the film argues, is to take content off center stage and to emphasize the relational skills future workers will actually need: being able to motivate, collaborate, persevere and navigate through a complex buffet of freelance gigs.

Whiteley highlights one school he believes is training students well. This is High Tech High, a celebrated school in San Diego that was started by San Diego business and tech leaders. This school takes an old idea, project-based learning, and updates it in tech clothing.

The documentary is about relationships, not subject matter. In the school, too, teachers cover about half as much content as in a regular school. Long stretches of history and other subject curriculums are effectively skipped. Students do not develop conventional study habits.

The big question is whether such a shift from content to life skills is the proper response to a high-tech economy. Brooks argues that it is at best a partial response: “The cathedrals of knowledge and wisdom are based on the foundations of factual acquisition and cultural literacy. You can’t over-leap that, which is what High Tech High is in danger of doing.

Most Likely to Succeed  is inspiring because it reminds us that the new technology demands new schools. But somehow relational skills have to be taught alongside factual literacy. The stairway from information to knowledge to wisdom has not changed. The rules have to be learned before they can be played with and broken.

For the full article, see Schools for Wisdom.