Try Harder (2021)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars possible
( Made in 2017/18, just in time for a 2022 Oscar nomination, I think!)

Filmmaker: Debbie Lum
1h 25m
Color :

In 2017, let us go back to those halycon days before the pandemic for an amazingly detailed nostalgic look-- at helicopter parents, a time when comparatively "tiny" envelopes of money were available to unscrupulous ELITE college admissions officers were "harmless" Chinese New Year Gifts. Yes, gentle reader it was weirdly calming, reassuring and relaxing to travel back in time to see what would transmogrify into the now "Infamous Varsity Blues scandal before a Worldwide Public Health Disaster-By-Design and Global COVID-19 Pandemic.

I was, consequently, totally engaged from the beginning to the very last frames of " Try Harder", a documentary film from Debbie Lum. Welcome to the Origin Story/ Blockbuster Expose of....wait for it...The 2022 Graduating classes of... USC, UCLA,UCSD, UC DAVIS HARVARD, YALE, PRINCETON, and Brown University, to name drop just a few for fun(!?!) , for kicks and for giggles. Sometimes, gentle readers, it is A JUST PLAIN and CREEPY-GUILTY PLEASURE to view a truly Technicolor Transformational
Cautionary Tale whose time I had hoped by 1981 had come and gone.

You see, back in the previous Century I was a graduating senior at yet another JFK(memorial)HS in a small Northern New Jersey town a stone's throw from the toxic, silk industry-poisoned waters of The Great "Falls"( multiple entendres intended here and see below).

My father-cum-perpetrator, who had for all my years of indentured servitude as an over-achiever in America's Glorious "Free" Public School System was furious, neigh, apoplectic with red-hot rage! You see, I, the 100% hermetically sealed closeted homosexual left-handed-middle child had ONLY a second place class ranking after: 11 Consecutive Years of HonorRoll, A boatload of college scholarships, A US Presidential Scholar Medaliion, A Rensselaer Medal for Achievement in Mathematics ( with a scholarship to RPI), Early Admission to CaseWestern Reserve University and "Regular" Admission to YALE and NORTHWESTERN Universities and had been re-elected as Student Body President and first Black-American...blah, blah, blah.

Oh, right, ever the iconoclast, I had followed his dictum that I had the "freedom" to go to any school I wanted long as I paid for it(!)... by CHOOSING NORTHWESTERN. That was the second thing that pissed him off. He coveted bragging rights to Yale and I had foiled his ease-of-access plans! NU was notable at the time (1977)for being an Anti-Affirmative Action Admissions institution of higher education, i.e., no lowering of standards because of skin color. By a total miracle, NU’S financial aid package and those other scholarships* had trumped Yale’s pathethic perfunctory offer by any known metric. Based on my working myself to exhaustion (True story: my doctor wanted to hospitalize me for exhaustion and deyhdration the week of the Senior Awards Assembly, but I vehemently refused to comply, btw!). But my Dear Father ( a DJT B4 DJT, quiet as it was always kept) was angry about a STUPID CLASS RANK!!!

Meanwhile, back in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Public Schools they officially finacially fed off the Federal Affirmative action for School Integration dollars by busing their black students to FABULOUS white schools for lunch, then busing them back to the dilapidated all-Black inner city schools for 100% of their instructional day.

So from this independent film critic's POV, EVERY PARENT WITH A CHILD(-REN) in any public school must go and see "Try Harder." Perhaps you can now take solace as you see for yourselves how little has really changed in the USA you were led to believe might still descend into dystopian chaos in your communities. ! See how the art of masterful documentary filmmaking still is quite adept at imitating life!

*( National Merit Schlorship included)

As for "Try Harder"....
at lowell high school, san fran...A.K.A. " Tiger Mom school"
Debbie Lum
A year in the life

Memories of the way we were. That is the song that comes to mind watching Try Harder, a Year-in-the-life of six high school students at Lowell High School, the #1 selective admissions public high school in San Francisco, CA. Forty-five years and several professional lifetimes later for this reviewer, I still almost instaneously engaged this film. I was stunned at how much the focus was almost exclusively about grades, AP classes, and test scores. I found myself happy that things were far less parent-centered and controlled back in 1977 when I was in the same place academically and extra-curricularly among my 799 peers at JFKHS in the small industrial town back East that I spent my high school years. AP courses were something new in '77 and not a mandate for college admissions as they are depicted in Try Harder.

You know you'll enjoy this film if you realize how comparatively much more you enjoyed your classes and as opposed to obsessing over test score and grades. It was also disappointing to see class sizes of 35 as a norm --unheard of for me until I was a college undergraduate in 200 seat lecture courses.

The college application process for some of the students in this film was more about what their parents wanted than the students who were signing up for a four-year minimum scenic cruise. A twenty-first century challenge-- anti-Asian discrimination in the college admissions process at the highly competitive universities and a focus only on Ivy league and West-coast elite universities. My alma mater, Northwestern University, was never mentioned,but neither were any Midwestern schools. Interesting. Then there was the number of schools these students were applying to -- 12 on the low end, 25 at the maximum-- absolutely insane!

#1 ranked high school in San Francisco
Selective admissions
Grade anxiety
12 to 20 college applications...ouch! 26 schools actually applied to by one student
AP classes mostly
Beloved teacher announces cancer diagnosis...then demands class be happy as they completed physics lab projects.
35 students in a classroom!?

A public service message to Parents in the State of California, A.K.A., home of The Golden State Stimuli

From Vernon Nickerson Schoolcoach For your vetting and review....
Let me be clear to all my parents and friends of parents: Virtual Instruction, Pandemic Pods and or Homeschools are all here to stay. Nevertheless, for those still happy to have to worry every minute your GenEd priceless progeny are in classrooms of 35 to 45 students in CA public schools, even those as prestigious and selective/ exclusive as Lowell High School in San Francisco, CA ;watch the 2021 release of "Try Harder", do not just accept what you read here. Yes, if you have an IEP OR OTHER contractual agreement for your SPED student, good luck now that historically stringent CA State Requirements have been waived for any graduate who can pass a LIVE SCAN to become a long-term substitute in your child's SPECIAL DAY school classroom or "mainstream"- resourced GenEd hybrid classroom-- A.K.A. the "any warm body will do" method of SPED/ GEN ED instruction.

When the first COVID deaths of children occur in Public School Districts who have given Religious and HIPAA- shielded vaccination waivers to untold numbers of certificated staff, admins, and paraprofessionals to the children of wealthy, white, vocal, and lawyered-up elite minority-majority folks, you may then decide to switch and be forbidden to; or exercise your extant freedoms to sign up for personal schoolcoaching to explore your options ahead of expensive investments in questionable "resources".

Call (424)259-3703 to schedule a consult to explore options your schools are REQUIRED to fund. This is particularly important if you are in a unique group of parents who observed your students THRIVING/ DOING BETTER (!) in Virtual classrooms than they ever did with 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, or 50 classmates. Maximum socialization, to be sure, but how much demonstrable mastery of the material have you seen outside of your child's public school brick-and-mortar campuses -- before, during, and after(!?!) COVID19 and its variants-too-many-to-keep-track-of?

Note well: is just ONE of an overwhelming number of resources targeting educational dollars/ budgets. As always: CAVEAT EMPTOR! Research, reading and knowing the right questions to ask every salesperson ARE Essential in 2022 and beyond.

An opinion piece in the Public Interest.
(C) VernonNickersonSchoolcoach. 2022. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.




STOP ASSESS FACILITATE EDUCATE/EVOLVE/ EFFECT PERMANENT PEACE I Also am a minority advocate for humans choosing to be unconditionally loving. Be S.A.F.E.

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Vernon Nickerson

Vernon Nickerson

STOP ASSESS FACILITATE EDUCATE/EVOLVE/ EFFECT PERMANENT PEACE I Also am a minority advocate for humans choosing to be unconditionally loving. Be S.A.F.E.

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