How did I even hear about this movie, Waiting for Superman? I am a media hound most times, dipping my snout through the periodicals, scanning television, surfing the net … and yet. I never heard of this movie that looks to be at the very least, interesting. I know that trailers are a tricky piece of propaganda meant to whet our appetites for the whole meal. Still, there are so few documentaries made about education that are meant for the big screen, that I can’t help but hope this movie delivers the goods.
Waiting for Superman is a film that looks at education in America, and if the trailer is any indication, it could end up painting a much wider and more dismal portrayal of the current state of our entire culture than I want to think about. In the preview that I link to, for example, the narrator points out that the U.S. ranks 25th in math, among developed countries, and 21st in science. In fact, American students are close to the bottom by most measures, except they lead the world in (drum roll please) self-esteem!
Obviously telling the story of the current state of the American Public Education system is a difficult, if not impossible task. As an insider with eighteen years of teaching experience and 12 years of pubic education schooling, I believe I’ve heard this clarion call before. I remember reading parts of A Nation at Risk while I was still in high school. As an undergrad, I read Jonathan Kozol’s Death at an Early Age (which recounts his year as a teacher in Boston Public Schools), and as a student teacher I read Savage Inequalities (written decades later and chronicling the disparate conditions in neighboring school districts). And there have been countless other books such as Horace’s Compromise, the Red Pencil, and most recently, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, that have argued that there are serious problems with how we “do” education.
So I’m sure this two hour movie won’t be able to point to any real solutions to “fixing” the school system, since many of the problems within schools (IMHO) are larger societal issues that flood into the schools. Until we address the violence, poverty, corruption, apathy, homelessness, abuse, nepotism, bigotry, alcoholism, depression, and countless other conditions that seem to daily afflict the whole nation, we can’t even begin to discuss the general hostility towards academic and intellectual pursuits displayed in much of our popular culture. You can get on TV, after all, if you’re an idiot and unashamed to show it. But who in the world remembers Ken Jennings? He’s just the answer to a trivia question now.
Okay, my rant is over, and I still hope that Waiting for Superman is worth the price of admission at the weekend matinee. If you’re still not convinced it’ll be worth your time, here’s some more information I was able to piece together from the promo clip:
- Davis Guggenheim, director. Don’t hold it against him that he directed Al Gore’s Oscar Winning Slideshow, “An Inconvenient Truth”. Just be happy that someone not named Roger Moore is making documentaries aimed at a popular audience. If you want to hear a little bit from the director, you can find a brief talk here.
- Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. This polarizing figure in public education, makes an appearance in the clip and it will be interesting to see what she adds to the discussion. Rhee has been featured in many articles over the recent past, and she is one of the few people in public education who have name recognition with the general public. Often described as “ruthless” and “relentless” by her opponents (i.e. teacher’s unions), she is equally lionized by her supporters as “pragmatic” and “decisive”. You can watch a discussion between Rhee and Charlie Rose and decide for yourself what you think.
- Geoffrey Canada, Author, educator, and Director of the Harlem Children’s Zone. I first learned of Mr. Canada after coming across his book, Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America as a graduate student. The rest of America may recognize him from his American Express Card commercials, or not. Either way, he is featured in the promo and I expect to see him and his work discussed in the film. Here’s a clip of him talking about his involvement in the film.
Hope you find something interesting, and thank you for stopping by.
Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.