Waiting for Superman: Plenty of Blame to Go Around

Tue, November 9, 2010

Changing the World

I finally had a chance to see the movie Waiting for Superman and I’m so glad I did.  But I can’t say that I left the theater feeling very good about certain aspects of our public education system.

The movie traces the stories of several children around the country as their families try to help their kids achieve in school, whether it be through under-performing public schools, good public schools or private schools.  But each family featured has issues and problems they have to navigate to help their children become the learners they want them to be — some face unresponsive teachers, crowded classrooms, financial issues, and much more. All of the families worry what the future holds for their children if they fall behind in school.

For me, there were two huge takeaways from this film — (1) all the parents featured were trying their hardest to provide the best education possible for their kids, and (2) our public school system is based on what’s most important and most convenient for the adults involved, and not the children.

Before you start attacking me, I know there are plenty of great public schools and many, many wonderful and dedicated teachers.  But the movie really highlighted the fact that the way our system is set up today — whether you’re talking about the length of the school day or school year,  outdated union rules that reflect a time we no longer live in, overextended teachers who don’t have enough time to deal with the issues each child needs help with, and a federal government that has ignored its promise for decades to make education priority number one.

The scenes where the featured children had to endure waiting to see if they would be picked in lotteries to attend better performing schools — or would be stuck in the schools that were not serving them well — was excruciating. And it just kept making me wonder, “Why?”  Why can’t we get it right in our country? Why, as the statistics show, are our so many of our children getting left behind?

There is plenty of blame to go around — I blame those who want each state or locality to decide what should be taught in schools, rather than having decent national standards.  I blame the federal government for not doing a better job in creating a national curriculum, especially around math and reading, that should help our children.  I blame the system that makes teachers dig into their own pockets to buy supplies.  I blame the system that doesn’t reward the best teachers and continues to retain teachers and administrators who are just marking time.

There is puh-LENTY of blame to go around.  Except that so many adults in the system like to blame the kids.  Or the neighborhoods they live in.  Or the families they come from.  And there is more than enough evidence in Waiting for Superman to show that just isn’t the case.  Those are just easy excuses that allow the grown-ups to think, “Bad education is what happens to those poor kids.”

As the narrator and creator of the movie point out, those who have the means to send their children to private school don’t have to worry the way many of the parents in the movie do.  But we all should be concerned that the vast majority of schoolchildren aren’t learning the way the should or the way they can.  Because they’re the ones our economy will need in another generation.  Our economy is in bad enough shape as it is — we need to make our lawmakers and our school administrators face up to the fact that they should take responsibility for our kids’ futures (read: everyone’s future).

I know that some will say, “Well, that’s why we home-school our children.”  And if that’s an option for your family and it works for you, that’s great.  But the fact of the matter is this — that only works for a tiny percentage of families and, in essence, becomes it’s own privileged system because most families don’t have the resources to do that.  Our country can’t survive without an excellent public school system.  Based on the proficiency scores the movie presents, we aren’t even close.

I highly recommend seeing Waiting for Superman, especially if you have school-aged children.  It’s a startling educational wake-up call that everyone should see.

Disclosure: I received a gift card from K12 to attend Waiting for Superman with whomever I chose to take along (yes, popcorn was included!).  I was planning on seeing the movie and have previously written about my thoughts on the theme of the movie. I was asked to write a review of the movie in exchange, but  K12 did not direct the content of my review in any way.  I was free to write my honest opinion about the movie, and that’s what I’ve done here.

K12 is an online learning resource that provides individualized curriculum assistance for children through the 12th grade.

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6 Responses to “Waiting for Superman: Plenty of Blame to Go Around”

  1. annie Says:

    State and local control promote ownership and involvement. There should be more not less.

    And really, most of the families I worked with were unconcerned about their children’s lack of personal effort and/or interest. In fact, many really only saw school as one of those boxes to check off on the way to being an adult. They expected me to do all the work and really only got concerned when the school issues started imposing on their time in terms of phone calls and meetings (you would not believe the how many parents forbid us to call them during the day even when they were home or had access to personal phone time on the job and we weren’t allowed to issue detentions or set up before/after school times for tutoring either).

    I would say blaming elementary school kids is unrealistic but by middle and high school, kids are the drivers. If they aren’t encouraged by parents to succeed – they won’t.

    The Superman movie is a bit of spin. At least one of the scenes was totally staged and the it definitely was looking for villans and it’s just not that simple. Unless you go to a school and really spend time there – look, listen! and try to do it yourself perhaps – you have only the slightest idea of what teaching is.

  2. Shannon Drury Says:

    THANK YOU for pointing out that those who opt-out of public schools need to accept their responsibility for perpetuating broken systems. The haves will always have–until they decide that they are going to pitch in with the have-nots to help EVERYONE.

    I want to see this movie but I fear it will trigger an angry clench to my jaw that will put me in lowdown permanently!

  3. Shannon Drury Says:

    Lowdown?! I meant LOCKDOWN. Sheesh.

  4. Inquirer Says:

    I saw the movie yesterday and came away with many of the same feelings you did. I was struck by two statistics from the film. (1) Despite more than doubling the amount of money we spend on education, we have seen NO significant gains in ability or test scores. (2) When you measure the best of the best – the top 5% – from countries around the world we only come in 17th. We aren’t just failing the poor and underprivileged, we are failing everyone.

  5. Rob Letcher Says:

    Thanks so much for the review! I’ve not been able to get to see the movie yet, but everyone who has seen it has shared similar sentiments as your own.
    ~ Rob (K12 Employee)

  6. Meghan Says:

    There is a TON of very good dialogue about the MISINFORMATION in this movie. I could write a HUGE response about your review of this movie, but let me just say, your review is pretty seriously flawed. How could it not be? The movie itself is hugely flawed and FULL…FULL!….of errors and misinformation.

    As a public educator and an advocate for public schools, please consider joining the group NOT Waiting for Superman on FB. You’ll get a whole different read. It’s a really great place to read read read – with very well respected educators and allies talking about the problem with privatization. Charter schools are part of an every growing trend to privatize – from prisons to schools. I’m worried. I don’t think this movie brings the issues to light – and it glorifies charter schools (and in reality, 1 out of 5 charter schools outperforms public schools; not a statistic I’d go for). And what about talking to teachers? The movie DOES NOT.

    As my mentor said, “This movie should have been called Waiting for Batman!” Batman lives as an elite in a cave with a fancy car and has access to all the resources and all the women. Superman lives like the rest of us – he’s one of us.” Seriously, the movie needs a makeover with REAL facts. Guggenheim dissappoints. I’m not a fan.


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