Posted by: endithinks | October 3, 2010

Waiting for Superman

I just finished watching “Waiting for Superman” in the theatre and I have to say that the movie was very well done.  I want to talk a bit about some of the major points, a few things done for dramatic effect and what I am taking away from this film.

The movie starts out with the narrator giving a bit of background on his older projects which included a year-long study of teachers as well as his own conflicting views about public schools and the choices he made for his own children.  The filmmaker sent his own children to private school “betraying my own progressive views about public schools.”  he tells us this so that the audience can take all his points that the film makes with the proverbial grain of salt.

The film follows the struggles of five different families trying to make the proper choices for their children in regards to their educations.  It is an homage to hard-working parents facing institutional barriers to a better life for their children.  A few of the families are minorities in traditionally under served areas like Washington D.C and Los Angeles.

The film sprinkles in history and politics quite liberally as a backdrop for the family dramas that we watch.  The film also shows us teachers, administrators and change agents in candid interviews about the state of the American education system.  They describe their own personal struggles with an education system that was originally designed for a labor force that was mostly skilled and unskilled labor with a small proportion (twenty percent) needing higher education.

The statistics are daunting when we start to look at the graduation rates of high schoolers in various places across the country and the lack of opportunity for students to get themselves out of the tyranny of geography, institutional failure and in an unfortunate turn, failing teachers.

As a trained educator, I did take slight umbrage at the filmmaker’s blanket characterization of teacher’s unions as universal blockades to education reform.  The unions were portrayed as selfish individuals who only were concerned with their own adult problems.  The history of the unions did lighten the accusation by pointing out the historical need of unions for fair salaries and working conditions, but the history was just that history.  In fact one of the main conclusions of the film even stated that teacher’s unions were blockages to reform and should be removed.

The film was on point in regards to the struggles that most parents who are mindful, hard-working individuals face when trying to better their children’s lives.  One parent struggled with more than one job in order to send her daughter to a catholic private school.

The title of “Waiting for Superman” came from an educator’s childhood dream of the comic book character coming in to save them from the socio-economic struggles that the entire neighborhood faced.  The principal and founder of a series of revolutionary charter schools recalled the story when as a boy his mother told him Superman didn’t exist.  The boy cried not from a childhood hero being non-existence, but from a despair that no one would have the power to save them.

This film is thought-provoking and needed.  We have had too little done to ensure our continuation of innovation and critical thinking that is so important for the security of our country and our social and economic well-being.  Programs and money are good tools, but they cannot replace the two main components of successful education: talented, well paid, respected teachers and dedicated, involved parents.  Without those two components the entire process is doomed to stagnate and fall into the slow decline that we have seen happen to children’s performances in fundamental disciplines like math and reading.

The idea of moving all resources from extra curricular activities and disciplines which include art, music, physical education, shop classes ect is asinine and backwards.  We need students who are multifaceted and well adjusted to a world that is constantly changing and requiring adaptation.  If we go down the path of math and english only education we will see a squandering of that outside the box thinking that is essential to innovation and creativity.  We cannot afford to be fundamental only people, but at the same time the other extreme of feel good education and no failure curriculum is just as biased and foolish.

We need a system that is balanced between the artist and the engineer.  We need parents to be involved and of course that will require time and energy that unfortunately most parents do not have or prioritize due to economic pressure and economic insecurity.  I could talk more about that, but that is a related issue that I don’t want to cover right now.

Overall I would highly recommend this movie if for nothing else than starting a conversation about the future of our country.  Education is the key to the future success and security of our nation.  We cannot simply bully our way into economic and political security.  We need to reinvest in ourselves and in our near future.  Education should be the number one priority of any patriot and concerned citizen.


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