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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The importance of student empowerment in education. Thinking outside the box. The power of critical thinking. Having a willingness to try new things. Having perseverance in pursuit of goals.
Positive Role Models
Simone's mother says that she's going to miss her daughter but that the trip will help the teen's future. Simone says that her mother’s support gives her strength. Jaxon's advisor in the Netherlands claims that their schools try to give kids a good education with challenging assignments so that they can do well in college. Brittany's history teacher tells students that it's now their time and task to save the world as the next generation in creating a society of new critical thinkers. Brittany's host father tells her that the schools in Finland prepare kids for independence, the ability to have self control, and to take responsibility for what you do. The head of a vocational school in Switzerland encourages students to attend such institutions if they’re not interested in more tradtionally scholarly work. In a Korean classroom, kids hand over their smartphones before a session begins. Kids are also seen mopping their classroom floor to keep the area clean. Crowds of onlookers, including Korea’s Education Secretary, support students as they enter a building to take a competitive college entrance exam.
The movie centers on four ethnically diverse American teens in pursuit of a rigorous education, particularly in math, reading, and science.
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Violence & Scariness
References and images include police officers and personnel patrolling school halls and campuses to secure staff and student safety; use of metal detectors to enter schools; a student shoves and then pushes away an adult who is walking near him after completion of a competitive college exam; and Amanda Ripley, author of the book The Smartest Kids in the World, reveals that she once wrote about the topics of crime and terrorism before covering the subject of education.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
There's a discussion about how Korean students engage in dating since so much of their time is devoted to school and studies. Public display of affection isn't encouraged and is often hidden, but in the documentary two students hold hands while they take a stroll.
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Use of the expression "killing it" to describe the effectiveness of school systems outside of the United States. Use of the word "stupid."
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Products & Purchases
References and images include smartphones, desktop computers, laptops, and headphones. There's also a discussion about a U.S. college that costs $30,000 a year, as well as mentions of Microsoft and YouTube.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Smartest Kids in the World is a documentary based on Amanda Ripley's bestselling same-named book about four ethnically diverse American teens who choose to study abroad. Each is in search of an education that may be more challenging than what's offered to them in the United States. The countries they select -- Finland, Korea, the Netherlands, and Switzerland -- consistently have high rankings in the areas of mathematics, reading, and science. References and images include patrols of school halls and campuses to secure safety and use of metal detectors to enter schools. Language includes use of the word "stupid" and the expression "killing it." There are positive messages about student empowerment in education, the importance of being a critical thinker, and the willingness to try new things. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
One instructive lesson learned from this must-see documentary is to have a discussion with teens about their high school education. Ask what they believe might motivate them to remain engaged in school. "I started realizing that in most education debates there were no students at all," says Amanda Ripley in The Smartest Kids in the World and author of the book based on the film. "It was about adults. There are millions of experts on education who are never in the room when decisions get made and those people are kids." And notes 17-year-old Simone Bey from the Bronx, New York, who studied in Korea, "I've come to realize that it's not always about a student not caring or a student not showing interest. But, sometimes where you are, where you go to school, where you live can greatly affect your education."
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.