Accepted: Tragic Look At Education [Tribeca Review]

Accepted doc image of Mike Landry, the founder of T.M. Landry College Prep, surveys his students during the daily morning meeting.

Accepted is a documentary directed by Dan Chen that looks at the college preparatory school, TM Landry. The school touts a 100% college acceptance rate for students, but underneath that impressive record lies questions and harm. It raises questions about our educational system, the different schools and prep academies, and the inequalities that create a cycle of poverty for those already impoverished. 

It’s no secret that there is education inequality. Schools in wealthier neighborhoods across the United States have better resources and, usually, a better teacher-to-student ratio. As such, students can receive more assistance. Furthermore, if you factor in wealthy parents’ ability to hire additional outside services to aid their child’s academic endeavors, the gap between the well-funded and poorly-funded schools increases. For the students of TM Landry, they attend because they and their parents want to have the best opportunity to get into the competitive elite college. Sadly that opportunity was more harmful than helpful. 

The Students’ Journey
Accepted doc. Isaac, a senior at T.M. Landry College Prep, wears his Stanford sweater as he prepares for the upcoming ACT exam.
Isaac, a senior at T.M. Landry College Prep, wears his Stanford sweater as he prepares for the upcoming ACT exam.
Photo Credit: Dan Chen

The documentary looks at the students in the school. Accepted focuses on a quartet of students, Alicia, Adia, Isaac, and Cathy, as they enter their senior year at TM Landry in 2019 while also on the cusp of TM Landry’s fall. It also looks at founder Michael Landry and the environment at TM Landry College Prep through this rise and fall. 

We see the personal backstory for some of these students and their dreams of college and career. They believed in the vision. Who wouldn’t after those viral videos with TM Landry students getting into elite colleges like Harvard and Yale? The sense of community and family that the Landrys touted may be true. Some families have verbal and physical abuse, so, in a sense, sadly, there was no lie there. But though students came and stayed upwards of 10 or 12 hours to study, many would learn they were not even at grade level.

The documentary humanizes the story surrounding TM Landry. It focuses on the students as they go from hopeful and excited for their future to disillusionment. The students felt lost without direction after leaving TM Landry College Prep. But that’s common when a dream has turned to ashes. We watch them climb back up and cheer for them to succeed. 

The Hypocrisy of The Elite

Accepted does point out the hypocrisy of wealthy white families. They already benefit from wealth and white privilege yet lie and cheat to get their usually lazy children into dream schools. Then you have the students of TM Landry who do little else but study, and the Landrys lie and exaggerate stories of hardship to get them into their dream schools. One has all the privilege and still cheats. The other is playing a system that cheats to keep many groups out. 

We Need A Solution

Accepted shouldn’t leave anyone with a feeling of sympathy for the Landrys. Child abuse, regardless of the reason behind it, is inexcusable. Some may point out that predatory schools such as TM Landry aren’t the fix. Instead, the broken education system is what needs fixing. Yet, what becomes of the students who are waiting for that repair? Do we work with a corrupt system that, by its nature, resists change, thereby assuring we will take years to achieve minimum success? Or do we create something else to avoid the prejudices and biases woven into the foundation? 

The film is similar to the fictionalized film Whiplash that shows abuse at an elite music school. Ultimately, the victimized student is triumphant because it brings out his talents, and the teacher is pleased. So often, people claim a correlation between abuse and success as though one leads to the other. It begs the question, if students were academically surpassing their peers at TM Landry College Prep, would the abuse be acceptable to many? Perhaps what needs to change is a collective mindset that forces children to forgo their youth in favor of a nebulous success. Accepted is recommended viewing, but it will break your heart. 

Featured Image: Photo Cr. Dan Chen

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