Review: Waiting for “Superman”
The American education system is in shambles. I know first-hand. I work in a fifth grade classroom where one student survived a bullet through his chest in third grade, another waits hopelessly for her father to return from prison and a scary percentage of the class can barely read or solve basic addition, subtraction and multiplication problems.
By this callow age it is already evident which students will become high school dropouts and likely pursue a life of poverty, gangs and drugs. Maybe some of them will be fortunate enough to get paired up with a great run of teachers that will turn them around, or win a lottery to be enrolled into a high-performing charter school. However this is an unlikely hope and it turns the future of each child into a roll of the dice.
Forget terrorism, war, global warming, the economy… education is the most pressing issue facing this country, and it is constantly given the cold shoulder. How much did we hear about education during the mid-term elections? Not much, instead we listened to the economy blame game. The economy is going to recover at some point, the 40 percent of black and Hispanic high school students that drop out every single year never will.
David Guggenheim’s documentary Waiting for “Superman” is refreshing because it puts this problem on the big screen. I wish that every single voting American would watch it. The film very effectively shows why the system is broken through the lives of five families struggling with the education system. It argues that teacher’s unions have far too much power to allow for any reform and preaches the effectiveness of high performing public charter schools.
Because of the power of the teacher’s unions, it is almost impossible for teachers to be held accountable. Because it is so hard to fire teachers, if a teacher is bad they are merely moved to another school in a trade for another bad teacher. Wouldn’t it make sense that the better teachers be paid more than poor ones? This would increase accountability and give teachers motivation to be great. Forget about it, under the current system this could never happen. Poor teachers will continue to be paid just as much as great ones.
The solution Waiting for “Superman” seemingly believes in is charter schools. These schools get public funding but are allowed to run independently, outside the system. The film shows the students it follows waiting to be selected to these prestigious public schools. They are given a number in a lottery, their futures are literally being drawn out of a hat. The problem is that not all charter schools are as effective as the ones portrayed in the film, and in order to be great they need a great deal of money, which the film chooses to ignore, arguing that money isn’t necessarily the biggest problem.
I believe that money is one of the top problems facing education reform. It is what makes education one of this generation’s civil rights issues. Schools are funded by property tax. A school in a wealthy white neighborhood is going to receive excellent funding. A school like the one I work at, across the street from the projects, is going to suffer.
Education is the cure to crime, violence and addiction. If we spent as much money on schools as we do on prisons the country would be in great shape. This doesn’t mean we should have to pay more taxes, it only means we need to spend our money more wisely.
If the masses don’t realize how serious this problem is, nothing can really be done. Whether right or wrong with its arguments, Waiting for “Superman” is an important film because it makes noise about a problem that is too often ignored in the media. One could argue with some of the film’s solutions, but not with the fact that the system needs to change.
What “Superman” does best is put a face on the problem. It’s easy for someone to look at pathetic national statistics, shake their head, and move on. It is not easy to watch the heartbreak caused to children and their parents when they simply don’t have the means to get the education they deserve.