Realistic people don’t hold onto the hope that they will win the lottery and all their problems will be solved, why do we hold our children’s future and education to a lottery, which will hold the hand of a few students through their lives and forget about the others?
This is the question that Director Davis Guggenheim poses in his newest documentary, Waiting for “Superman”. With a sharp focus on public schools themselves and the immediate reasons why they fail our children, he compares them to similar alternatives, for those who can’t afford private schools for their children. When I was growing up and heard mention of a charter school or a magnet school, they were attached to negative connotations. I had no idea why people didn’t like them, but I felt lucky that I was in a public school. Come to find out from the documentary, the bad feelings were due to two different things: the schools were not as proficient as public schools (back in the nineties) and they are not regulated as tightly as public schools. The latter has become the reason why so many have sought out education for their children at magnet and charter schools recently. With all the regulations and red tape put into place from the government and the city itself, there are so many contradicting rules that either cancel each other out or tie up problems for years with no solution.
Guggenheim delves into the red tape situation with Michelle Rhee, DC schools’ chancellor, leading the way with her tough path to reform the District of Columbia’s failing schools. She starts by firing many teachers and principals followed by closing down schools that are no good anymore. She is met every step of the way with angry parents and even angrier teachers and staff. After about a year of her cleaning house, she finally started to see progress, she still had a lot to tackle, but it was a good start.
Another focus in the film is Geoffrey Canada, who has been involved for over thirty years with schools. From a teacher to the creator of the first charter school in Harlem, which has been successful for years, he begins to tell his views of what is wrong with public schools. You may recognize him and his story from an American Express commercial, but his message remains: do what it takes to give successful education to children everywhere.
Canada brings up a good point that most might not have realized. Everyone sees the failing school in the failing neighborhood and assumes that the school is bad because of it’s location, but Canada and Guggenheim point out that perhaps it’s the other way around. Because of a failing school, there are higher drop out rates, which puts more adolescents on the streets with no education and no aspirations; therefore, causing trouble just to get by.
Within these points of view, the film really focuses on five children in different areas with failing schools. It is through these five small children that your heart gets pulled in. Without the children leading the story, you would have no vested interest in which school did what. However, after meeting the children and hearing of their dreams to become a doctor or veterinarian, it is absolutely heartbreaking to see the environment of which they will have to rise above to even be given a chance at those dreams.
Throughout the film, it becomes increasingly obvious that a big problem with education might just be the Teachers Union. The Union seems to be the culprit providing the absolute most red tape that only prevents the children from advancing. Through all the regulations, which I won’t go into here, it is obvious that the adults are only looking out for themselves. Not one choice seems to be in place to help education itself. I will name just one rule, which just ticked me off. The Teachers Union provides Tenor to all teachers that can make it two years as such. After which, they can not be fired for pretty much anything. If they are not working out at a school, they simply get shuffled to another school, and that school would then receive some new shitty teacher from some other school to deal with for a year. The rules are all ass backwards as to how to raise America as the smartest we can be.
It has been well known for years now that Americans fall behind in most subjects compared to other countries, but what really hurts us is our low math and science skills. When our schools are not able to churn out students smart enough to handle the technology we have created, then we are forced to outsource and hire people from China and India who have the skills to run companies. So the schools do effect our future directly and we have been seeing it first hand for awhile now.
Guggenheim follows the five children as all of them look for other options outside of their public school. They all apply to a charter school near them in which they will only get in through a lottery system. Because there are so many applying every year, they must draw numbers randomly as to who gets into a school with low government regulations and free will to change curriculum with the changing times and who doesn’t. The rest are left to probably suffer through another year of low standards in their public schools. This documentary is a cry for help for the public schools of America the way Sicko was a cry for help with our current Health Care system. It’s absolutely heart breaking and I don’t even have children of my own. I won’t ruin the end and tell you who gets into a good school and who doesn’t, but those who don’t have their worlds shattered and its all captured on camera for us. Seeing a child sit through a grueling process of number calling only to end up not being called, it’s as if you can see that child’s future crumble in front of them. Instead of getting into this school, which would most certainly guarantee college after wards, they are instead left to fend for themselves in a failing public school, and ultimately remain in that failing town as a cashier instead of going on to college. Or worse off, dropping out and roaming the streets later and ending up in jail.
The focus of the film is very poignant and to a certain degree, I wish it delved into a bit more of the problem. Such as students failing because of the home environment, or schools failing children because of the No Child Left Behind act which gave schools money for students that had good test scores, which led teachers to gradually make the tests easier to pass so the school could get proper funding. With some points left out, I was left wanting a bit more. Although, with the film at two hours roughly, the points they do make, they have plenty of time to solidify their claims. Children learning has nothing to do with how much money a school has.
All children are equal in abilities to learn despite their income. I believe all children are a clean slate and want to learn everything as much as the next one. It’s simply not fair that only a select few are given the privilege to earn such an education. Public schools in America used to be a proud staple in America, it is high time we start shifting our priorities to what really matters in this country, and stop looking at our wallets so much.
P.S. As of October 13th, Michelle Rhee was pushed to retire as chancellor of DC schools. This happened because the Teachers Union was able to vote her out with their huge contributions to the new Mayor of DC. It is only a matter of time now before those schools revert back to their old ways and continue to fail at educating the young.
If you are interested in helping your local schools and putting a stop to the nonsense, Text “POSSIBLE” to 77177.
I give Waiting For “Superman” 4 “Help save the English language” out of 5
by Angela Davis