In High School (1969), Frederick Wiseman observed conflicts in the minefield of a lower-middle-class secondary school where administrators and teachers were more concerned with discipline than stretching minds.
For a follow-up 25 years later with High School II (1994), Wiseman visited New York's Spanish Harlem where he took his camera into classrooms at Central Park East Secondary School [CPESS], a successful alternative high school with a predominantly black and Hispanic student body. Between 85% to 95% of CPESS graduates attend four-year colleges.
With small classes and successful student/teacher interaction, CPESS encourages students to discuss, debate, and think for themselves.
The CPESS approach to learning is revealed in their outline known as Habits of Mind (weighing evidence, considering multiple viewpoints, making connections and relationships, extrapolating possibilities, and assessing values).
This portrait of daily life in the CPESS corridors and classrooms shows faculty meetings; teen parents; sex education; science and humanities activities; political organizers; student council meetings; family conferences; debates on class, gender, and racial frictions; students resolving conflicts; and students being asked to provide more evidence, extend statements, and add details.