Theory in ‘Most Likely to Succeed’

Most Likely to Succeed (2015) contains a number of different theories. While Phenomenology can be applied to this documentary, the most prominent theory discussed is Critical Theory. There are also several sub-categories that fall within that Critical Theory umbrella. At High Tech High School, the traditional power dynamics are flipped, and the teachers take a more passive role as the students become leaders and mentors to one another. This ties in with Critical Theory because it seeks to actively change power dynamics in order to initiate positive change, ie. empowering students through giving them autonomy. Another example of Critical Theory in the film is seen when the one teacher transforms his class into a Greek symposium where the students gather in a circle and lead the discussions themselves. They are taking over their learning, and they are in control of the curriculum to some extent.

Critical Race Theory could also be applied to this movie when looking at how the documentary shows the lack of racial diversity. While the school does award enrolment positions through a lottery set to minimize social class exclusion (by removing economic factors such as tuition or stratified communities/zoning), the documentary focuses primarily on Caucasian students. Looking back to social class and High Tech High, a Critical Theorist could use that as a lens to explore the way stratification is still prevalent in the school, or at the least, in the documentary itself. Beyond the lottery that determines who gets to attend the school, another Critical Theory focus could be spent on the way the school emphasizes technology over everything else, setting students on particular work paths. Companies focused on innovative technology, such as Google, Twitter, or Facebook, could greatly benefit from such a curriculum, and Critical Theory would provide a lens to research how this corporate benefit, or possible “grooming”, can be problematic for education as a whole.

Feminist Theory, a sub-sect of Critical Theory, can also be applied to this film when exploring the way traditional gender roles seem to be exploited by some of the educators. For instance, there is certainly a focus on traditionally masculine stereotypes such as assertiveness, leadership, and extroversion, and the documentary spends some time focusing on the struggles that one of the female students has with developing these particular skill sets. When she says she is experiencing more confidence in these skills, the male educators applaud her and it is implicitly implied that possessing these skills is much more desirable than possessing traditionally feminine stereotypes like being introverted or feeling comfortable in more supportive roles.

Phenomenology is present in the documentary because there has not been much research conducted on experimental learning yet, so much of what we know comes from small phenomenological samples of how educators, students, and parents feel regarding the new curriculum. The documentary employs these small interviews and personal experiences to give an inside look into the growing phenomenon of experimental schools such as High Tech High. These are the most prominent theories seen in Most Likely to Succeed.


Connors, K. Stock Photo.

Whiteley, G., Leibowitz, A., Ridley, A., Lombroso, D., & Whiteley, G. (2015). Most Likely to Succeed. U.S.: MLTS Film.


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