The 'Smartest Kids in the World' documentary is out today! 🍿
Let’s be real. For a lot of parents and kids, the past year and a half of on-and-off virtual “learning” has revealed a lot of weaknesses in our education systems, our government and our society. Crises have a way of stripping us bare. But crises also create opportunities—to re-imagine, re-invent and repair.
That’s why the timing for the nationwide release of The Smartest Kids in the World movie is kind of perfect. Just in time for the back-to-school season, this film is a window into what could be—if American high schools learned from the smartest school systems in the world and listened to students, who know what they need better than anyone else. (Plus, for those of us who haven’t traveled in 17 months, it’s just downright delightful to see so many far-flung places, food and people, captured so beautifully in this film.)
Inspired by my 2013 book, the award-winning filmmaker Tracy Droz Tragos found and followed four new American teenagers to four countries for one school year. The film transports us, alongside these remarkable students. We get to watch Jaxon hold a yard sale in rural Wyoming so he can raise the money to go to the Netherlands. We get to see Simone travel from the Bronx to South Korea, where just navigating the subway is a herculean achievement. We listen in as these kids reveal their hopes and fears to their new friends and host families in their borrowed countries. We discover what they miss about America—and what they don’t. It is a dazzling, mind-opening ride, and you emerge with a new imagination for what is possible.
At a time when many countries are closing inward, hunkering down in response to change and fear, this is a film about young, intrepid Americans doing the opposite. They are charging out into the world, convinced that there must be ways to adapt to change and to learn from one another, rather than turning on each other.
I hate to admit it, but no book can have the emotional impact of the footage that Tracy and her team captured in real time. It is just a gorgeous thing to behold (check out the trailer to see what I mean). I am deeply grateful to the students in the film and to the Emerson Collective for making this ambitious project possible—and to Discovery for carrying it out into the world. A profound thank you to the exceedingly talented, gracious and resilient Tracy Droz Tragos, Shannon E. Riggs, Dan Duran and everyone who worked on this epic project on three continents. Thank you for never, ever giving up!
The Smartest Kids in the World movie is available starting *today* for streaming on Discovery+. Let me know what you think!
To possibility and popcorn,
A Small Request
If you read the last newsletter, you know that I testified before Congress this summer about how it could extract itself out of toxic conflict. Well, now, members of Congress from that committee (Democrat and Republican) are taking the show on the road, and they’ve asked me to join them at SXSW to talk about how Congress can reform itself. They need all the public support they can get, just like anyone trying to bushwack their way out of our conflict-industrial complex…
If you’d like to see this hard conversation happen on a national stage this spring, vote here ASAP.
I write about change and people who have undergone transformations (and the researchers who study them) for The Atlantic, Politico, The Washington Post and other outlets. I’m interested in your stories about trying (and failing and trying again) to get out of dysfunctional conflict in your neighborhood, your home, your place of worship. Wherever it is. You can find me on Twitter or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find my latest stories — about how to deal with conflict entrepreneurs at work and how to manage high conflict in your school district this fall — at amandaripley.com.
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