Provided by PhotoSynthesis Productions.

ITHACA, N.Y. — A locally produced documentary featuring schools that teach students how to think rather than what to think, including a school in Ithaca, can be previewed at Cinemapolis in February.

The film “RE:Thinking” was produced by PhotoSynthesis Productions, a small film company in Ithaca. The film follows three public schools over the course of three years, including Lehman Alternative Community School, and asks the question “What if we taught students how to think instead of what to think?”

Ithacans can catch a preview screening of the documentary at 7 p.m. Feb. 3 and 2 p.m. Feb. 4 at Cinemapolis in Ithaca.

Filming for the documentary began in 2012, and the crew followed students for several years at LACS, Green Hills School in New Jersey and Bard Early College in Queens. The film shows the change that happens when teachers and students work to build knowledge rather than just memorize information for tests.

The film was inspired by the work of Derek and Laura Cabrera, professors at the Ithaca-based Systems Thinking Institute and visiting faculty at the Cornell University Institute for Policy Affairs. Director and producer Deborah C. Hoard said it was important to explore this topic because the education system is what prepares young people to be citizens in a democracy.

Director and producer Deborah C. Hoard said it was important to explore this topic because the education system is what trains young people to be citizens in a democracy. She said it’s not secret there are problems with the American education system.

“Working with the Cabreras it became clear to me that maybe this was one way that we could really improve the whole system and we didn’t have to tear down the buildings and we didn’t have to fire teachers … and we could focus much more on how you think instead of memorizing information and that would make young people happier in school and make them happier grown-ups and make them happier citizens and participants in what we like to think as a democracy here,” Hoard said.

After seeing the film, Dave Lehman, founding principal of LACS, wrote “RE:Thinking” is a “welcome call for progressive education and the essential skills of critical thinking, problem solving, and compassionate caring. Examples from actual classrooms, and conversations not only with leading educators and administrators, but also with young people, demonstrate an understanding of what it means to be in a progressive school…”

The documentary was produced and directed by Hoard, and co-directed, edited and photographed by Rachel Ferro, with additional photography by David Kossack and original music by Mary Lorson.

Hoard said the response to the initial screenings has been powerful and emotional.

“In our country there’s a lot of talk going on about democracy and what it means to think, and to be able to see bias and to be able to understand information and not just take what somebody says at face value but to analyze it and to study things for yourself and build your own knowledge,” Hoard said. We’re hopeful that it’s good timing to really dig into this and that it’s a great way to bring about change.”

Learn more about the film at

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.