There were many questions from the 600 people who came to watch Most Likely To Succeed last night at the Fargo Theatre. But the one which the film’s producer and TEDxFargo speaker Ted Dintersmith points people to, is this:
With our current education system, are we preparing our kids for life, or are we preparing them for standardized tests?
The film points us back to 1893, when America’s school systems were reformed to fit an industrial age. The system was designed to teach students the same information, so they learn to jump through hoops and pass tests, he said. Now, he believes it’s time for another reform, one that prepares kids for an age of innovation.
“The assembly line model doesn’t work for an innovation world,” he said.
A National Success
In January, the film was selected from 12,000 applicants to be shown at Sundance Film Festival and had a record amount of screenings. Dintersmith began to get offers from a variety of streaming platforms, including Netflix, offering to buy the film.
He turned them down.
“If it’s online, people say they’ll watch it. But they won’t. The average Netflix queue is 97 films long,” Dintersmith said at the event. “By having showings like this, we can get everyone in the same room and start a conversation.”
Dintersmith, who worked as a highly successful venture capitalist for nearly 20 years, left his job in June and is now on a 50 state tour from now until May. Fargo was one of his first stops. In fact, it was Fargo that inspired him to begin the road trip.
“I owe something to Fargo,” Dintersmith said to the audience. “Fargo inspired me to do this.”
An Innovative City
When he came to speak at TEDxFargo in July (watch his talk here), Dintersmith said he was caught off guard by the energy he found in this city tucked up north. As he paced Broadway back and forth, practicing his talk, the idea to take the film on the road and speak to schools across the country began to take shape.
“There is a sense of commitment and collective energy here,” Dintersmith, who lives in Boston, told the audience. “You can tell people here are going to get things done.”
Premiering the film last night to 600 people was the first big kick-off to the tour, Dintersmith said. He flew a videographer from Los Angeles to Fargo to capture the night. Today and tomorrow they are having interviews with local teachers about reactions to the film and what it looks like for Fargo schools, including doing some filming in the classroom of TEDxFargo speaker and teacher Kayla Delzer.
Having just shown the film at an auditorium where the screen was half covered by a basketball hoop, Dintersmith said the beautiful Fargo Theatre and an intro by the organ player was a welcome change. With over 600 people registered, it was also the biggest showing they have had yet. And when the film was finished, it got a rousing standing ovation.
“I don’t usually tear up, but that got me,” Dintersmith told the audience.
Starting the Conversation
After the film, local school district leaders, the audience, and Dintersmith all held a Q&A session.
“I think this film raises a lot of good questions, but it also gives me affirmation that we’re on the right path,” said David Flowers, Superintendent of West Fargo Public Schools. It was a sentiment largely echoed by the other school leaders in attendance.
“Six hundred people showed up today to watch a documentary about education,” said Denise Gorsline, Interim Dean of Arts and Media & Communication at Minnesota State University Moorhead. “This doesn’t just happen anywhere.”
Other school district leaders who shared their thoughts included Lynne Kovash, Superintendent of Moorhead Area Public Schools, Mike Slette, President of Oak Grove Lutheran Schools, Jane Schuh, Interim Dean of North Dakota State University, and Jeff Schatz, Superintendent of Fargo Public Schools.
Because the film purposefully does not vilify anyone, Dintersmith said the reactions are largely positive. Where he sees pushback, he said, is from traditionalists, or hedge fund people, who believe the best option is free choice in charter schools.
Another obstacle, which was pointed out in the Q&A, is “a lack of flexibility in our state to break the mold.”
What Dintersmith is quick to emphasize is that the answers to the questions raised in the film are different for every school and every city.
“This is not a film for answers, it is a film for questions,” he said. “My biggest ask here is for you to take this to your own school.”
“This is enormous and interesting fight,” he said. “But it’s worth fighting for.”
Photos courtesy of Marisa Jackels.