I didn’t choose to watch the live show funded by the Apple-founder Steve Job’s billionaire widow, Lauren Powell Jobs. It found me.
The evening of Friday, September 8, 2017, began with amazing sub sandwiches from a local eatery, a Guinness beer, and the watching of the ABC news coverage of Hurricane Irma. Being the first Friday evening of the 2017–2018 school year, I was tired. I wanted to settle in for some couch time. After my husband and I marveled over mother nature, four familiar faces appeared on our television screen: David Muir’s, Gale King’s, Chris Wallace’s, and Al Roker’s.
These familiar commentators were talking my language: education. I was curious. I thought I was watching a serious documentary that might be interesting. I was wrong.
The next scene cut to an unknown face (an actor pretending to be a journalist?). He had an announcer’s voice and a canned sit-com quality to his demeanor. I turned to my husband, saying: “Oh, this is a spoof.” I was wrong, again.
My husband giggled as he shuffled the remote through ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX — all four networks were airing the same production. My mouth was agape, and I had trouble shutting it for an entire hour. I was flabbergasted. I was confused. I was entranced. It was kind of like watching an educational train wreck.
And then music from the movie The Breakfast Club began and adolescents began to sing the familiar song by Simple Minds “Don’t You Forget About Me.” I wonder if my generation was the target audience? The show had me wondering the demographics of the targeted audience all hour.
Next, we see Chance The Rapper appear on stage. I turn to my husband again. He giggles again. The only feeling to describe watching is one of discomfort. Education is not flashy. Schools are not filled with actors and celebrities. Reform had never been presented to me in such a way. My anxiety and interest were piqued.
Chance’s message: the world has changed, but schools have not. All students deserve an education that fosters their talents and aspirations. He calls for communities across the nation to come together to create education that: “honors the potential of every child.”
Cut to a kid playing the drums and choreographed adolescent dancers in primary colored tops and bottoms. The energy is high. The smiles are huge. The time rehearsing is apparent. Screens on stage present celebrity names in colorful cartoonish graphics. Five minutes in, and I realize this is a show. This is a production with celebrities promoting educational reform? This is a very expensive hour-long, four network time bought, a show on how Americans can come together and create “super” high schools. I really want to look away. I should tell my husband to turn the channel. But I can’t. I teach high school. I write about education. I care about reform. The kids keep dancing — I continue watching.
Actress Viola Davis leads the discussion of how the days of waiting for others to change schools is over and we, as Americans, must come together to change high schools. I am starting to get why this over-priced production is happening: XQ wants me and my fellow Americans to join them to make our high schools the best in the world (again?).
XQ had me at the topic of education, but then Viola Davis introduces a montage of the history of schools. My interest is piqued again. The video portion of this brief historical journey has a key message: students sitting in rows, moving from class to class every day directed by bells, for four years, is outdated. Students need, XQ contends, to be enrolled in schools that are modern, innovative, project-based in order to be able to hold jobs not yet envisioned.
Viola Davis informs the viewers: “Tonight is not a telethon, it is a call to action.” Powerful.
How do you join this action? Text XQLIVE to 22568. My husband and I both dared each other to do it. Neither of us did.
Cue the dancing, again. XQ employs cool camera angles, music, a little dancing to have the viewer imagine redesigned high schools where the “love of learning and teaching collide.” It is a call for “individualized learning, less sitting and more doing, less memorizing and more thinking, every student ready for the 21st century, deeply prepared to succeed in college, career, and life, community-business-school partnerships and collaboration, for every kid in America regardless of gender, race, or zip code.” I have never heard so many educational buzz words at one time!
Justin Timberlake enters the stage and gives love to the hurricane survivors in Texas and hope to the people in Florida while demonstrating one of the “Super Schools” that have adopted the XQ model. He asks the viewers to text XQLIVE to 22568. I dare my husband, again. He is a wimp.
Timberlake’s fades and the cutest principal in the world is singing “Good Morning.” She runs a “Super School” near Houston, TX. The school is student-centered, hands-on, connected to local businesses, and dynamic. The school is clean, appears well-funded, and has a community garden. The adorable principal describes her school’s transformation from a “dropout factory” to a success story all because of XQ’s super school program.
Kelly Clarkson sings. I am not sure why.
Actress Maria Bello tells the viewers the reason why XQ has chosen to focus on transforming high schools. After reading the XQ website, she basically reads from their script — saying the high school is a crucial pivot point. This is where I get a bit angry when Maria Bello says: “If we change high schools so that they truly guide and support students…” Wait a minute, Maria. What do you do? You act? You are a mother? Are you a teacher? Oh, your mother was a teacher (I learn this from the chalkboard icon graphic that keeps popping up on the screen).
In the next video segment, Lin Manuel Miranda, star of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton, enters a school auditorium and hugs his theatre teacher. He thanks her for teaching him and tells her that lessons learned from her have been crucial to his success. I think, but wait, did he go to an XQ Super School, or did Lin Manuel Miranda attend a traditional school?
The next segment of the production is ridiculous. Melissa Rivers pretends to be on the red carpet introducing “super star teachers” while students hold hand-lettered poster board signs and cheer. It was corny and awkward.
Viola Davis goes live again and climbs the stage to introduce her sister, Delores, a twenty-five-year veteran teacher. Everyone claps. Davis asks the viewers to text, again.
The next video segment is inspiring. It demonstrates an attempt to bring equity to areas where students struggle with homelessness, poverty, and high drop-out rates. This alternative school seems like it serves a small, extremely needy population with the use of technology to fulfill graduation requirements. The video shows a success story. Andra Day sings “Rise Up” beautifully.
Next, a bevy of actors and celebrities make cameos by finishing the statement, “I wish I learned…” Some of their answers are banal, some are funny, and most left me wondering if they were good students? Did they pay attention? Their answers seem more like old people giving young people life lessons.
My husband and I authentically laughed at the School Bus Karaoke led by Tom Hanks and James Corden. Maybe the lack of commercial breaks thirty minutes into the show made us punchy. Maybe Corden and Hanks are just hilarious. For me, this was the highlight of the show. It didn’t add any meaning. I was still confused and baffled, but at least I laughed.
Okay, about thirty minutes into the show, I begin to take notes. I refused to be confused any longer. (I am a life-long learner, dammit. I can figure this out.) I begin to analyze what XQ is and is not. I begin to assess and evaluate their message and agenda. The following is the run-down:
21 Century Learning
The creators of Youtube channel “ASAP Science” talk how they applied what they learned in a traditional high school to create “ASAP Science,” but they call on Americans to create schools that will help students be prepared for jobs that have yet to be envisioned. Their premise is that we need to change schools to prepare students for the unknown.
Just as the creator of Mad Robot is speaking about transforming schools in order to create “creative problem-solvers,” the camera highlights the presence of Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Her presence seems to demonstrate the endorsement of the AFT of XQ? Interesting.
Tech, Tech, Tech…
The next video segment focuses on a “tech-forward school,” which shows minority students’ success in technology. In fact, many segments in XQ’s production promote technology as the medium for which students will be prepared for the 21st century. Hmmm….Steve Jobs’ widow promoting technology? I am sure there is no coincidence.
Student led, Student Centered…
Nashville students are recognized next in the program and country singer, Hunter Hayes performs. Everybody smiles and claps.
Samuel L. Jackson speaks next by showing the viewers that students are working the cameras, are writing for the production, and are helping to direct the show. Again, it is a bit forced.
The show goes on to call on businesses to offer students internships and apprentice opportunities. One example shown in a video segment is the Iowa Big School. It is a program where students in three area high schools spent part of the day in a traditional setting and then the remainder in a problem-based environment. Community involvement is emphasized. Student efficacy is the goal.
Join Your Local School Board…
Want to volunteer? Serve on a school board. XQ has a beautiful folder to send you if you would like to learn more about volunteering on your local school board. Interesting that they think school boards have such power to transform schools?
XQ Super Schools…
Eighteen super schools and counting…I learned that there have been schools applying to become super schools since 2015. Interesting? Do these schools face standardized state tests? Do their teachers face value-added evaluation rating systems? Are these schools well funded? Does XQ help to fund these schools? Do these super schools use Apple products?
Glitz, Celebrities, Music, Money…
Overall the production of XQ Super Schools Live was pretty. The videos were extremely well made. The celebrities were entertaining. The student performances were top-notch and interesting. Although I shook my head the entire hour, I am not professionally opposed to what XQ is proposing, but I am extremely wary of the founder’s purpose and integrity.
One thing is certain, they peaked my interest. I will be following, assessing and evaluating their premise that schools are failing and need to be transformed. It is a tired narrative, however. The Washington Post’s recent article does an incredible job of speaking about this in the linked article below.