4 “Must See” Documentaries to Design the School of the Future

In preparing to understand the United States Education system, I spent the weekend studying four insightful documentaries about education systems.

  1. The first was documentary was Teach Us All, which was the 2017 directorial debut by Sonia Lowman. This film explored the progress, or lack of progress, between the integration of schools in the late 1960s to now. For me, the underlying lesson is that our school systems are more segregated now than they were then. Also, the schools that need the most funding are the schools that receive the least. Many of the problems, with educational funding, is not there is not enough; the issues is that the allocation of that funding is not equitable. This film revealed substantial systemic problems that require extensive cross-community collaborations between government, social services, parents, to name a few.

  2. Then I watched, American Teacher, directed by Vanessa Roth and Brian Mcginn and released in 2011. The film was an eyeopener for any parent that had to homeschool during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is incredible to see what teachers are asked to do for our students with so little support. For the amount of money, teachers are paid, and what they are asked to do, they need to make 2 ½ to 3 times what they are paid. They serve as our children’s teachers, psychologists, social workers, and surrogate parents. Many take extra jobs as coaches or after school program facilitators to make ends meet. Then they go home and grade papers and create lesson plans. Their situation is a problem begging for a solution to make teachers’ work-lives better.

  3. Next, I watched “Most Likely to Succeed,” directed by Greg Whiteley and released in 2018. Although this film provided a glimmer of hope, it also led me to realize that we may be heading into a dystopian future if we do not adequately prepare our students for seismic changes occurring as part of the 4th industrial revolution (4IR). We are in the 4IR now. Its an industry is based on the synergies form digital, physical, and biological fields. Think of Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, autonomous vehicles, and mind-controlled prosthetics. If machines are doing the work, what will our students of the future do for a living? The real insight is that our school systems were designed in the early 1800s to prepare students for factory work. Thus, our schools’ systems were designed for the 1st Industrial Revolution. Wow! What is scary is that it has not changed much over the past two centuries. Knowing how hard it is to change systemic social institutions like public school systems; then, the future is wet-your-pants terrifying. The bright spot was learning about a high school named “Hi-Tech High School.” It is applying the best practices to prepare students.

  4. Finally, I watched a 2016 PBS television NOVA episode entitled, “School of the Future.” Similar to the film, “Most Likely to Succeed,” this episode explored the possible options for designing the school of the future. The episode explored the current problems and possible technological solutions as well as best practices in the psychology of learning. For an Engi-Nerd like myself, this episode was the most promising and the most exciting. For 2016, it presented the cutting edge of science and technology.

So if you don’t have 6-hours on any given day to watch all of these movies, I strongly recommend watching one of the films. These films have inspired me to wonder, "with the most recent advances in technology, emerging science and technology, and predictions of the future sociotechnical state of affairs; then, how would we design the school of the future today." I don’t just want to explore the possible technologies, but to design the systems and services that prepare students for their future. This revelation has led me to make Designing the School of the Future, the campaign for the Social Innovators of the Americas Association’s (SIAA) workshops for our 2020-2021 program year.

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