High School II

Screening on Film
Directed by Frederick Wiseman.
US, 1994, 16mm, color, 220 min.
Print source: Zipporah Films

A possible solution to the problems witnessed in Wiseman’s first visit to a public high school comes in the form of his second visit—this time to New York City’s Central Park East Secondary School. An untraditional educational system founded on the “Five Habits of Mind”—skills for critical, open-minded thought—this institution successfully handles its racially diverse, inner city student body with respect, honest communication and a collaborative learning environment. Unlike the earlier High School, the standard here appears to be one-on-one interactions with students, patiently listening to students and their parents, and actually helping those in crisis—as when a fifteen-year-old mother wants to return to school—rather than detaining or suspending them. Filmed during a charged time shortly after the Rodney King incident, their encouragement of “political citizenship” and positive conflict resolution is readily apparent: from the organization of student-led protests to a mediation session held by older students with younger children who were fighting. Wiseman also includes an extended, candid and stereotype-shattering conversation among a group of teenagers discussing the realities of their challenging lives. Says an administrator of their high, but realistic, ambitions: “We want to change the world but we also want to prepare kids to be able to live in the world.” With most of their graduates accepted into college, this seems attainable.

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2018 Norton Lectures in Cinema:
Frederick Wiseman

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