All four major broadcast networks – CBS, ABC, FOX, and NBC – halted their regularly scheduled programming for an hour Friday night to air a star-studded telecast funded by a social justice organization urging its viewers to “rethink the American high school.”
The one-hour special, EIF Presents: XQ Super School Live, offered performances by Justin Timberlake, U2, Kelly Clarkson, Common, Sheryl Crow, Ringo Starr, Yo-Yo Ma, Jennifer Hudson, and others – but little in the way of solutions on how to solve the problems in American high schools.
The special opened with a sequence of network news anchors talking about the problems with American schools, including lower graduation rates, our lackluster standing in world K-12 education rankings, and our ability to solve political problems such as “climate change.”
Comedian and actor Bill Hader appeared in the next segment as a newscaster walking around an American public high school.
“When students cross this threshold, they bring their hopes and dreams, only to encounter a system that no longer helps them achieve these goals,” Hader said.
From there, the program devolved into a musical number of several teenagers singing “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds, with an interlude by Chance the Rapper lamenting about the “cutbacks” in the American education system that he says are failing our kids.
“We look at our schools and just see the same – the same cutbacks, struggles, the same kids missing out on the chance to get the education that they deserve,” Chance the Rapper said. “We’re all here because it doesn’t have to be the same.”
Several dancers wearing brightly colored outfits showcased the laundry list of celebrity performers who would be taking the stage in the remainder of the hour.
A brief video segment discussed how the American school had not changed its model since the 1900s when education was primarily used to train people to work in factories.
The broadcast focused on American public high schools but did not mention many other school choice options, such as charter schools, private schools, parochial schools, and homeschooling programs.
It featured the experience of one student who graduated from Da Vinci RISE High School in Los Angeles, California, a “mobile learning center” that allows students to sit at a computer in a room and take courses on their own schedule.
XQ: The Super School Project, the project behind the hour-long program, is the primary financial backer of RISE High School, the program noted.
Another video segment featured Dr. Bertie Simmons, 83, principal of Furr High School, in Houston, Texas, touting how the students are working with faculty as “collaborative problem solvers” to redesign the curriculum; meanwhile, B-roll footage shows the students teaching elementary school students and planting a community garden.
“Tonight is not a telethon; it’s a call to action,” said Viola Davis of the ABC show How to Get Away with Murder, urging viewers to text the number on the screen, as many other celebrities did throughout the hour.
The program also featured a sketch with Tom Hanks and late night talk show host James Corden, depicting Corden getting on a school bus with Hanks as the driver before they, and several other children who appeared in the back of the school bus, broke out singing “Kids in America.”
“Let’s rebuild high school, and stand up right now,” actor Tom Hanks said after the sketch.
Kelly Clarkson performed her new single, “Move You,” and Jennifer Hudson closed the show with a high-energy performance of the Beatles’ song “Come Together,” featuring multitudes of teenage students and colorful dancers.
Notable people in the audience included Randi Weingarten, president of the teacher’s union, American Federation of Teachers; Apple founder Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs; and Russlynn H. Ali, a former Obama administration assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education.
Jobs and Ali run XQ and sit on the company’s board of directors, which includes cello player Yo-Yo-Ma.
Jobs put forth $50 million towards XQ’s super school project with the goal of attempting to redesign the American high school system for the twenty-first century, the Washington Post reported.
The organization works in tandem with the progressive social justice group called the Emerson Collective, which promotes causes such as supporting DACA recipients and illegal immigrants, “restorative justice” policies in schools, and protecting the environment.