I was finally able to see the famed “Waiting for Superman” last night at my local theater. Following the movie, we were also lucky enough to sit through a panel discussion about the movie that was moderated by Bill Kurtis, and included a Chicago Public Schools principal as well as a professor of education from the University of Illinois at Chicago. However, I digress, the movie is what is important here.
If you have not heard yet,”Waiting for Superman” is the new documentary by producer/director Davis Guggenheim, who directed “An Inconvenient Truth”. The movie sets out to discuss the problems with the American public education system and pinpoints a few areas that are in need of reform, such as teacher tenure, as well as highlighting the benefits of the charter school system. WARNING: This is a spoiler alert for anyone who reads further.
What bothers me about the movie is not his depiction of teacher tenure as a bad thing, or the fact that tenure is used as a tool to help keep bad teachers in schools. What bothers me is what goes unsaid about low performing schools. Mr. Guggenheim, in my opinion, seems to place most of the blame on the educators for low performing schools. But any teacher out there will tell you this is not always the case.
During the movie, Guggenheim follows a handful of underprivileged students and their parents as they navigate their way through the early years of school. While the movie tracks these parents, it fails to mention the low levels of parental support in a lot of school districts across America. All we see in the film is highly engaged parents working day and night with their children to help them get a good education. Without the help of parents, a teacher’s job becomes even more difficult, increasing the chance of student failure.
Guggenheim also talks at length about the charter school system in the United States. In the film, charter schools get a glowing review, going on to say that 1 in 5 charter schools is at a high performing level. He fails to mention what level the other 80% are at, which raises some questions in my mind.
There is no question in my mind that there are reforms needed to the American public education system. What bothers me about the movie though is the facts that are not presented. So when or if you decide to go see the movie, go in with an open mind, but one that will also think critically about what is being presented to you. Too often we take the information we receive at face value, which can be a dangerous proposition.