“Waiting for Superman”

If you haven’t been watching or reading the news, then you may think we are about to talk about comic books or a new superhero movie. Alas, no. That would be more heartening. But instead we are talking about the state of schools in our nation.  Although most would agree that improvements are desperately needed to meet the needs of all children in our schools, whether or not “Waiting for Superman” provides an unbiased solution is up for debate.

“Waiting for Superman” is a new documentary from the guy who did “An Inconvenient Truth,” the Al Gore-centric look at global warming.

It focuses on five children trying to make it into charter schools. The parents are involved, the children are enthusiastic, and all they need is the chance at a better education to ensure their futures.

The movie chronicles the ways in which our education system fails, and notes the power of unions to keep unfit teachers in their jobs. It includes Michelle Rhee, the chancellor for the Washington, D.C. school system. She argues we have to find a way to encourage the good teachers and do away with the bad ones. You may have read about Michelle Rhee when she fired 241 teachers at D.C. schools over the summer. That was 5 percent of all the teachers in D.C.

You will learn shocking statistics in “Waiting for Superman.” For instance, this nation spends twice as much on its students now as it did 40 years ago. What do we have to show for it? Our school children are 25th in math and 21st in science on a list of 30 developed countries.

Reviews of this documentary vary. There are glowing write-ups like a recent one in Entertainment Weekly, which called the movie “powerful, passionate and potentially revolution-inducing.” There are also less enthusiastic assessments. A Washington Post review by Richard Cohen said that the documentary’s view is skewed.

His point is that all five children in the movie are active students with involved parents. However, Cohen says that there are a vast number of students who aren’t represented in the movie. They are the ones whose parents are not as involved and who have behavioral and learning difficulties. These students, he argues, present unique challenges that are not addressed in the documentary.

Regardless, even he thinks the movie is worth watching. He says, “It deals with what may be the single most important issue facing this country, an education system that satisfies no one and nothing.”

For all of you parents, teachers and students out there, that’s a subject you have a stake in.

Read about the movie at the following web sites:

Here are a couple of positive takes.

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/columnists/steven_rea/20100926_On_Movies__Guggenheim_s__quot_Waiting_for__Superman__quot__is_a_personal_essay_on_nation_s_failing_schools.html

http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20428080,00.html

The next two perspectives are less-than-glowing. The first one is the Richard Cohen review mentioned in the above article. The other is a blog post that has a detailed account of what the movie gets wrong.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postpartisan/2010/09/waiting_for_superman_ignores_t.html

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/guest-bloggers/what-superman-got-wrong-point.html

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