Critical Thinking Wins at One KIPP High School

At KIPP King Collegiate High School, in San Lorenzo, California, the mission is to provide students with the critical-thinking skills required to succeed in college -- and the confidence to use them. More to this story.

At KIPP King Collegiate High School, in San Lorenzo, California, the mission is to provide students with the critical-thinking skills required to succeed in college -- and the confidence to use them. More to this story.

Release Date: 8/25/11

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Critical Thinking Wins at One KIPP High School (Transcript)

Jason Singer: I began with the real part of my professional career in a school that was broken in about as many ways as a school can be, and knew this has to be done better. My name is Jason Singer and I'm the principal of Kipp King Collegiate High School. What really galvanized for me when I started thinking about Kipp as a solution was that your zip code did not confer upon you a limited amount of opportunity, as opposed to a limitless one. We've told our kids since fifth grade that the focus of your work is to get to college. And our theory of practice at King is that critical thinking wins the day.

Jared Kushida: My name is Jared Kushida. I teach history at Kipp King Collegiate High School in San Lorenzo, California. If there's a constant theme throughout my teaching, it's that I wanna have Socratic dialog, you know, critical thinking skills almost every day.

Jason Singer: The hallmark of it is questions, thought provoking, difficult questions being asked by a teacher, and thought provoking and difficult questions being asked by students.

Jared Kushida: If you were like, 'Hey, Kushida, what can I-- how much does an A cost in this class?' and you took out your wallet and, you know, I was like, 'I think 50 bucks would work,' which one of us would be corrupt in that case?

Jason Singer: The trust that Kushida gives them is what empowers them.

Student 1: It would be you.

Jared Kushida: Why?

Student 1: Because you're the one that's asking for it, right?

Jared Kushida: So whoever is asking for an illegal or immoral favor is corrupt?

Student 1: You're the one that's asking for the money.

Jared Kushida: But what's the relationship between us? What's the power relationship?

Student 2: [inaudible].

Jared Kushida: I'm higher power, so could you be corrupt in that relationship, or would it have to be me?

Bria Lemmons: It really had to grow on me, because in ninth grade, I was not a good student. But then, meeting the teachers, and their passion really just made me want to stay and want to learn. To me, critical thinking means thinking beyond what you hear. It makes me think about myself differently. It makes me think about education differently. It's more than just about academics. It's about, you know, what you know in your brain, in your heart, in your soul.

Kate Belden: My name is Kate Belden. Currently, I'm the assistant principal of Kipp King Collegiate High School. I teach Leadership One and Leadership Two. We're on a team where everyone is devoted to our mission, that it is possible for every single student that attends our school to have the opportunity to go to four year college if they want to do that.

Jason Singer: When they walk on a college campus for their first time, you know, they're gonna be hit almost immediately with so many crises of confidence. They're going to be surrounded by predominantly white students, when their entire education here, they've been surrounded predominantly by people of color.

Kate Belden: We can't control the fact that they're gonna be in a situation for the first time, at least in the last eight years, where they're with a lot of affluent students. We can't control those things, so we think about, how can we best prepare them to be extraordinarily comfortable in the academic setting?

Jason Singer: When that professor starts speaking, if their legs kinda steel beneath them, and they're able to say to themselves, 'I got this,' then at that point, it's beyond just having power. What we want them to have is influence.

Kate Belden: What does control mean to you and what does influence mean to you?

Student 3: For control, it's kinda like yourself, and then for influence, is that a lotta people can influence you, so it's individual and then more people.

Student 4: The people we are controlling, they don't really have an option to do something else besides what you say, whereas influence is more like, you're giving them an option, or like persuading them to do a certain thing.

Student 5: I feel that in order to gain control, you must have like influence as a catalyst, and to gain influence, you should have control.

Jason Singer: We have no idea whether students at King are persisting in college, because we're graduating our first class now. I mean, time will tell. Persistence rates will either prove or disprove this notion we have of the importance of critical thinking. But when I look at our seniors, there is a difference in disposition. They have a presence that really gives me confidence that they're ready to succeed.


Video Credits


  • Zachary Fink


  • Mariko Nobori


  • Nick Francis

Associate Producer

  • Doug Keely


  • Hervé Cohen

Video Programming Producer

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

© 2011 | The George Lucas Educational Foundation | All Rights Reserved

Comments (2)

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Edutopia's Former Director of Video Programming

Showing and Telling in documentary video

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Thanks for your comments about actually showing more classroom instruction. As the new Video Director at Edutopia, I'm working on finding the balance in our documentary storytelling between telling and showing what goes on in the schools we cover. And I agree with you - we need more showing!

It's a unique challenge to try and convey as much information as we'd like to in our short web documentaries. Showing something as it's happening, in a cinematic, compelling, and contextualized way will always be my first choice. Capturing that moment on film, though, can be elusive because our film crew is limited in the amount of time we can spend in a school. We have to be there at just the right moment to witness and film a relevant and useful example, that is also visually engaging and that we can edit down to just a couple of minutes that will still make sense for a viewer who wasn't present.

I'm planning to move our documentaries more and more in the direction of showing, and I'm thrilled to hear that you want more of it. Please stay tuned for future video installments as I try to strike the balance we're both looking for.

A central issue for KIPP

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A central issue for KIPP schools has been their capacity to move beyond command and control instructional models to ones in which students are much more active constructors of learning, are in dialog with teachers, and in which speed is not so privileged, or producing "right" answers. This school is a response to these critiques, and I see that clearly.

HOWEVER, your video includes only a few seconds of actual instruction, so we are not able to assess what the level of intellectual challenge is in classroom environments, how authorized students feel to actually step up and take charge of their learning, and how seriously students are invited to be in complexity and paradox and lack of clear answers--the heart of critical thinking. This is a serious flaw with the video, and makes me wonder: is this a problem with the school? The model? The 5 minute video?

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