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Waiting for “Superman” (2010)

October 4, 2010

8/10 Savage Inequalities

Man, I pray this crap gets worked out by the time I have kids.

Waiting for “Superman” is a documentary about the current state of the USA’s education system and how over the course of roughly five decades it has gone from the model fit for a global superpower to a shell of what it once was thanks to generations of legislators and educators who opted to further the damage done than try to find a way to fix it. It’s also about the very people who are affected by it, the people who are making enormous strides to see that our children have the opportunities to realize their hopes and dreams, and how we all need to get on the bandwagon.

Going into this, I’d been hearing an ungodly amount of gossip about what why I should see it and why I shouldn’t from teachers, friends, the media, you name it. Eventually, it was one of those things that I had to see for myself if only to makes heads or tails out of all the conflicting voices, and while I do have a couple hang-ups, it’s about damn time the discussion got started.

With that being said, let’s start with those said hang-ups because this issue is way too broad to cover in one review and these hesitations are the why I went to see this in the first place.

So the main issue I have with this movie goes back to charter schools.

The thing is, charter schools both are and are not the answer to the fiasco that we and our children now find ourselves in. On the one hand, charter schools are the ideal; they have the funding, the staff, and the resources that many schools don’t along with the ability to work outside the system/unions that have been holding back our schools for far too long. On the other hand, they should be the standard, not the ideal. The movie doesn’t outright say it, but I feel like a good deal of people will walk away from this and wonder why Mark Zuckerberg would donate $100 million to the New Jersey school system while Oprah is giving $6 million to charter schools. Nothing against Oprah and nothing against charter schools, but when something is broken, even if it seems beyond repair, the answer isn’t to move on and abandon it altogether, the answer is to come together and tackle it head-on so that our sons and daughters don’t have to rely on literally winning the fucking lottery in order to get a proper education.

In a recent New York Times article centered on New Jersey governor Chris Christie in regards to the said donation from Mark Zuckerberg, when asked about whether he thought teachers would resist school reform, he replied, “Frankly, I don’t give a damn what they think…[the teachers’ union is] destructive to our educational system.” And, frankly, he’s totally right. We need more outspoken individuals like Michelle Rhee – the Washington D.C. school system chancellor who’s been actively overhauling her city’s abysmal track record by singling out and firing those who have only made it worse – and Geoffrey Canada – the founder of Harlem Children’s Zone – to take a stand and show people how it’s done, only we need them every school district.

Because aguably the most heartbreaking thing about this whole movie – and there is a lot of heartbreak – is how the view of those in power, those who can really do the most to change the way things are being done, have shifted the discussion and their mission as educators away from the children and towards themselves. I mean, we’ve all had bad teachers, men and women who you couldn’t help but wonder why they were teaching in the first place if they seemed to hate their job so much, but the fact that this kind of mediocrity and/or failure is rewarded by teachers’ unions rather than punished is the real problem.

Jesus, teaching is one of the hardest and most seminal occupations in the world, you don’t know your ass from your elbow if you think otherwise, but that doesn’t mean that teachers should held at a different standard if they suck at their job. Being granted tenure after two years? No one, not even the best teacher on the damn planet should be allowed that kind of obscene job security after two years. It’s just not about the kids anymore for so many of these teachers who don’t see a problem with reading a newspaper during class hours because whether or not they actually teach, they still get paid, and the same goes for the loathsome union reps that defend them. If I pulled that shit at my job, I’d be filing for unemployment before I finished the headlines. How this kind of self-destructive has been allowed for so long is beyond me.

But my other complaint is that there’s also not enough emphasis placed on the fact that there are good, even great, teachers working through the Department of Education across the nation. My fiancee has been working as a special ed. teacher in the Bronx for going on three years now and she’s fantastic at her job, and so are so many of the people she works alongside with. And that’s not nepotism talking, ’cause it doesn’t take a whole lot to know when a teacher is making a difference in a child’s life. Yes, there are a great deal of forward-thinking educators behind the wheels and behind the desks at some of the nation’s leading charter schools, but all the bad seeds shouldn’t overshadow the diamonds in the rough, ya’ know?

But if you know you’re a good teacher and are hesitant to see this for fear that you’ll be written off as one of the many poisoning the hopes and potential of America’s youth, you’ve really got nothing to worry about. This isn’t a call to you, this is a call to all those teachers shacking up in “the rubber room” and the brilliant individuals behind its creation.

I don’t know. I mean, it’s not easy to become a teacher, I’ve always considered it a position where a certain standard has to be met. And while there a great deal of teachers who do go above and beyond the call of duty, teaching has never seemed like the kind of job you just do if you don’t have a calling for it. Must be borderline terrifying to put your kid’s future in the hands of someone who really just doesn’t give a shit.

But this is all coming from me, and I’m not a teacher. All the same, I wonder how some of aspects of Waiting for “Superman” are going to perceived by the folks who watch this, because it really is this broken system that perpetuates failure which is at fault, not so much the teachers, and it’d be terrible to write off all public school teachers as merely part of the problem by the end of this. But if this movie ends up being the catalyst that revives the American education system much in the same way that An Inconvenient Truth opened up our eyes to a broken ecosystem, then we all owe writer/director Davis Guggenheim big time. A good education should be a right, not a privilege; astounding how that’s been turned on its head. And get ready to cry, I can’t remember the last time I heard so many people sniffling at one time.

Oh, and count this as my 400th review! Was planning on doing The 400 Blows, but I sure as hell didn’t foresee so many good movies to come out at one time after such a horrendous Summer. I’m tellin’ ya, single-handedly financing AMC over here.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2010 3:06 am

    Yeah, this is pretty high up on my list of things to watch. Add this to Collapse and IOUSA, and the world’s in pretty bad shape.

    • October 4, 2010 10:12 am

      You said it, man. Those Mayans might be onto something with that whole 2012 business.

  2. October 4, 2010 11:07 am

    I like the idea that just because something is broke doesn’t mean we throw it away, we try and fix it. Also, the tenure after two years is ridiculous. I had this horrible, horrible math teacher in eighth grade, but nothing could be done because, yeah, tenure. Dumb.

    • October 4, 2010 11:17 am

      Man, that’s awful, makes me wonder how many of my shitty teachers had tenure, too. Just absurd.

  3. October 4, 2010 11:52 am

    Sounds like a quality documentary. Will check this out Aiden. Cheers.

  4. ann Melim permalink
    October 4, 2010 5:42 pm

    Nice review.

  5. Fred permalink
    October 4, 2010 5:53 pm

    Tenure is granted after 3 successful years, not two. And while the union may be flawed, it is also a good thing in many ways- like providing amazing health care, for one, in a country where that’s really hard to come by. Keep cutting the crap, but try not to generalize! ❤

    • October 4, 2010 6:00 pm

      Forgot to add that and you are completely right. The benefits the teachers’ union provides are the cream of the crop and they can’t be knocked for that. On the other hand, I still wonder about tenure even after three years considering how many folks are still in the rubber room.

      • Fred permalink
        October 4, 2010 6:17 pm

        I’m not saying 3 years is any better than 2, and I agree that tenure should be earned and not simply granted like it usually is, but I just wanted you to have the right facts.

      • October 4, 2010 6:25 pm

        I hear ya’ and I thank ya’. Will make the necessary edits. You rock, Fred.

  6. October 4, 2010 7:31 pm

    awesome! Cannot wait to see this one. As a teacher I know how many lousy teachers there are who have tenure and nothing can be done about their poor effort. Something needs to be done. Very nice write-up. I think he had too many debatable “facts” in Inconvenient Truth — hoping this one is better and more objective.

    • October 4, 2010 7:38 pm

      Definitely check it out, man. Would love to hear your thoughts on it being that you’re in the system, had the best conversations so far with folks in your shoes. Not all the facts are there in regards to funding and resources and such, but still more objective that An Inconvient Truth i think. All the same, hop to it, homey!

  7. David Rosen permalink
    October 5, 2010 2:30 pm

    Every story has two sides and a propaganda film is not going to tell them both. Check out for a different perspective.

    • October 5, 2010 3:03 pm

      Will check it out, interested to see what it’s got to say.

    • October 5, 2010 3:12 pm

      Alright, just read the mission statement, and I agree with all of it. My biggest complaint with the movie is that people are going to walk away from it and think “public school are bad, charter schools are good”, and that’s not the message it should be spreading. If it were more along the lines of “the public school system is broken, here’s how we can fix it and here are some forward-thinking individuals who work in charter schools that can show us how to do just that”, then I think there’d be less of an issue. Along with that, it does focus very heavily on the union issue that unfortunately propogates tenure for some teachers who don’t deserve it, and, as the site says, “There is no serious discussion of funding, poverty, race, testing or the long and sorry history of top-down bureaucratic reform failure.” And that’s a shame. It’s a huge issue, it’s impossible to piont the finger at one problem and say, “THIS is why it’s fucked up,” but at the same time, it is pretty fucked up. But like I said, I’m not in the system and you would know better than I would. Would love to hear what you think, man.


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