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Education Mon Oct 04 2010
I like this. I think that One Man and I should review films more often.
Waiting for Superman is not, as the title may imply, a "reboot" of the old Christopher Reeve film, although the films do show parallels. Each story begins with a societal problem. The problem in Metropolis was crime caused by supervillains. In Waiting for Superman, American education is the issue and the supervillains are the very people who make improving young people's lives their life's work.
Each story has a fantastic villain. In the original, it was Lex Luthor, a greedy megalomaniac with hordes of henchmen. In the Waiting, the villains are teachers unions, with hordes of "bad teachers" who are only interested in keeping their jobs, according to this overly simplistic film.
Superman came from a distant planet and possessed super powers to defeat his enemies. The superhero is equipped with super-human strength and senses; ones that humans can't acquire. In Waiting, the solution is charter schools. Ostensibly, these are schools that all students are fighting to get into because they offer the panacea to all educational woes.
Although filmmaker Davis Guggenheim does concede in the film that only one in five charters do better than neighborhood public schools, that fact is overshadowed by his sole use of charters being examples of "good schools" and neighborhood public schools being "dropout factories."
Unfortunately, 80 percent of charters share little with the Harlem Children's Zone -- a school praised in the film that receives $17 million a year. This school offers wraparound services not available to students in cash-strapped public schools or charters that are not as well funded.
Guggenheim frames the teachers unions as being antiquated and hindrances to progress. He contrasts that with the innovation of charter schools. One school he uses as an example is a Green Dot School. He fails to mention that Green Dot schools are unionized, which means they have a contract -- which he depicts as being the kryptonite to quality education.
The film follows the lives of five young people in their pursuit for quality education. Many have the potential to be the first in their family to go to college, and to use their future station in life to propel themselves from poverty. Unfortunately, for these students, their zip code determines the resources that will go into the school down the block from them.
If these students were attending CPS neighborhood schools this year, there is a 70 percent chance that their classes will be overcrowded and that 50 percent of the programs offered last year will have been cut.
That's the major flaw in this film. It takes an extremely complicated issue and oversimplifies it. It demonstrates that the problems in public schools lie in "bad teachers," and doesn't address major issues in funding. Although I don't believe that "throwing money at the problem" will solve it, it sure seems that charters are throwing an awful lot at it, at least the "one in five."
The problems in Metropolis, if posed in the real world, would also seem insurmountable. Thankfully, the comic books had a superhero who could swoop in and make everything OK. The problems in American education also seem insurmountable. It's probably a good time to put away fantastic movies and work together-parents, students, and teachers. We can leave the bureaucrats at home, which is something on which even Guggenheim would agree.