More than 200 Arkansans gathered to discuss the future of education at two Noble Impact screenings of this year’s most-talked-about education documentary, “Most Likely To Succeed.”
Screened in Fort Smith and Little Rock this past week, the film questions America’s outdated education system and calls for communities to come together to reimagine education for the 21st century. These two screenings, too, account for the film’s debut in Arkansas, as it only premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January. The film was discovered by Noble Impact CEO Eric Wilson and VP of Product Erica Swallow during a visit to the Tribeca Film Festival in April and the duo knew they had to bring it to the Arkansas community.
Attendees of both screenings included local students of all ages, educators, administrators, parents, and business leaders. Community members and contributors from organizations such as Teach For America, Arkansas Learns, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, City Year, eStem Schools, Walgreens, First National Bank, Acxiom, the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Department of Education, Little Rock School District, and the state government filled the seats of each theater, eager to see the film and discuss ideas for change.
At both screenings, the film’s Executive Producer Ted Dintersmith headlined post-screening Q&A panels, both moderated by Noble Impact CEO Eric Wilson. “Arkansas has the potential to transform its schools to be better than any — not just in the U.S. but around the globe,” Dintersmith told Arkansas Business prior to his trip to the Natural State.
At Fort Smith, Dintersmith — joined by Big Picture Learning Co-executive Director Andrew Frishman and Future School of Fort Smith Advisor Talicia Richardson — discussed the need for innovation in an ever-changing economy. “The price of innovation is the loss of job categories,” he said, noting that the jobs that our students will be filling in the next 20 years haven’t even been invented yet. He added one more piece of food for thought to the conversation — namely that 53% of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. Clearly there is a mismatch of education attainment and market needs.
In Little Rock, the audience turned its attention towards the pains of change. “Is it even possible to overhaul the education system with all of the politics it entails?” one audience member asked.
Brave Noble Impact 201 scholar Jones McConnell, too, addressed the in-class issues that might persist even as educators try to shift to a more student-centered, interactive approach: “So many students get excited about ideas, but they’re often discouraged by teacher and peer feedback,” McConnell said, “If kids get turned down at school, how can we reach them?” Engagement, he accurately pointed out, is one of the key issues in today’s K-12 environment, particularly as students move further through school. Engagement drops year by year, as students find content less relevant and purpose-driven.
“We need to begin with the end in mind,” panelist and career educator Dr. David Rainey said at the Little Rock screening. “We have to learn how to learn.” What inspired me most about Rainey’s perspective was that he was steadfast on the purpose of reform. “I’m not advocating for charters. I’m not advocating for public schools,” he expressed. “I’m advocating for kids.” Indeed, no matter the strategy for change, we must always keep the purpose in mind. It’s time to work backwards from our goal and recreate the system.
Arkansas Times Associate Editor Benji Hardy and Arkansas Department of Education Assistant Commissioner of Learning Services Debbie Jones also joined the Little Rock panel, adding their own perspectives as analysts and practitioners, respectively.
These screenings wouldn’t have been possible without our partnerships with the Clinton School of Public Service, the Arkansas Times, the Ron Robinson Theater, the University of Arkansas Fort Smith, and the Future School of Fort Smith. Thank you to our colleagues at each of these organizations who set aside time and resources to help engage our community in a conversation about our shared future.
Making the massive changes we need in our education system truly is a community effort. We have a heavy lift here, but together we can do it.
As co-hosts of these film screenings, we at Noble Impact are incredibly grateful for the overwhelming support and engagement that’s been spurred. This is merely a beginning, though — let’s continue this conversation on how we’re going to change Arkansas’s education system.
For starters, if you’re interested in learning more about “Most Likely To Succeed” or our screenings, check out images from the screenings on Noble Impact’s Facebook page, and learn more about hosting a screening of the film in your community on the film’s website.