Waiting For Superman

(Go watch this movie! Or if you have, this is my reflection on it which I had to write for school. Again, felt I should post it on the general internet.)


Ever since I first heard about it, I had been dying to see this documentary. The goal of the film is to highlight the “inconvenient truths” in our public schools, then revamp the system in the hope of improving our test scores and the educational experience of students in our country. After finally getting to see this film, all I can say is: WOW (I’ll apologize in advance for the length of this. I could literally write a 30 page paper on the topic of education and education reform).

As expected, I was in tears by the end of the movie. The topic of education is a subject very dear to my heart, as I love school and learning and believe in the ideal that “education can solve all problems.” I can only hope that education will be able to solve education’s own problem. For most of my life I dreamed of being a K-12 teacher. When I got to college, my vision changed as I became interested in videography and design. I now want to make documentaries. I see this as an extension of teaching. I want to make documentaries because I love engaging people in what they learn and I want people to see topics in a more fascinating way than they are usually presented in textbooks. I want to teach people all about history through stories from real people, using old video, interviews, pictures, etc. Not just text on a page (because, though I can find this equally as fascinating, most people cannot and have no interest in the topic). So, in sum, I love learning and teaching.

Seeing all those kids vying for a spot at a charter school was heartbreaking. They were all full of this desperate hope, so eager to learn and they’re being cut off from a great educational resource. Turning them away from the charter schools is basically like telling them they can no longer go to school because returning to their public school will definitely not help them at all. It’s not fair. Those kids could all be equally or more smart/driven/responsible as me, but because of their geographic location and economic standing, they don’t get the same opportunities as I did. And because of a PUBLIC school system! A public resource, a public good that is not providing for everyone equally. The only reason my school is “good” is that it is in suburbia, an area where people don’t mind paying/can afford school levies. I was lucky, and they were not; I get to go to college and get a high-paying job, and they get to struggle towards that same goal with limited means and a worse education. That is so wrong.

There are so many things wrong and unfair about this system, it is hard to comprehend. I always knew that we were falling behind in test scores. I didn’t realize that a large part of the problem was the tenure system created by teacher unions. However, I’d like to point out that this film did an unfortunate job of demonizing teacher unions. According to an interview with the film’s director (Davis Guggenheim), he didn’t mean to do this but that’s the way it comes across in the film because it’s hard to make an argument and give all sides to the story. That’s a fair thing to say, but consider the removal of tenure from your contract if you were a teacher (you are, actually!). You would definitely feel threatened by that. If someone was telling you, “Hey, we’re going to remove this safety net you previously had and we’re going to start firing any people we deem ‘bad teachers’”. I think most teachers would be very fearful and would rightly question whether they were a “bad teacher” or not. Of course this fear is going to cause you to vote against any changes to your contract. The problem is that they need to think bigger than themselves. They are hurting so many children in this practice.

Another drawback to this movie: it very much glorifies charter schools. Charter schools are not the answer. We should not rely on charter schools to fix our education ills. We should LEARN from charter schools, about what has worked and what hasn’t, and apply that to our national public education system. Charter schools are inherently exclusive and do not really close the education gap but perhaps adjust it so that instead of rich vs. poor students, its charter vs. public school students. In some ways I also see them as increasing the gap between minority races. When I was in Arizona, I saw an incredible amount of charter/private schools. I’m pretty sure I only saw two public schools, one of those being Arizona State University. There are two reasons for the large proliferation of charter/private schools there: 1) the AZ government has cut almost all of their education spending (don’t even get me started on how much I hate that state and its politics) and 2) they have a huge immigrant population. Charter/private schools increase segmentization as certain ones cater to the Spanish speaking population, and others exclude it.

I’d like to mention my favorite statistic in the movie. The cost of keeping someone in prison for four years is $20,000 more expensive than sending them to a thirteen (K-12) year private school. This is such a waste of my money it almost makes me want to stop paying taxes (but I am rational so I won’t). I know that prison reform is a completely different concern but it’s just pathetic what we’ve chosen to spend our money on.

Overall, I think this movie works as a good motivator for change. Just like “An Inconvenient Truth” did for global warming, hopefully this does for education reform. It’s not the most fair and balanced movie and it misses a lot of other problems in our education system; yet it’s a movie with a big-name director and a lot of money and sponsorships (Bill Gates included!) behind it. It will at least help to get the ball rolling, hopefully.

Things I didn’t fit in the essay but I’d also like to mention/complain about:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan: “Why, in education, are we scared to talk about what success looks like?”

Producer Lesley Chilcott: “In a land where I have 14 choices of peanut butter, kids are entering a lottery to get into a decent school.”

The Dance of the Lemons: Are you kidding me? Sending the bad teachers around because you legally cannot fire them – is this not obviously wrong? What profession exists where you can’t fire someone for FAILING at their job??

Teach for America programs put poorly trained teachers with no experience in the hardest classrooms in the US, which experienced teachers try to avoid. This is just failing kids more. They won’t have stability in teachers (which means they won’t learn as much material) or well-trained teachers. It does no good for students who must endure their teacher’s inexperience. Teaching is seen as a charity act/volunteer work instead of a career.

Teaching lacks pay and prestige; therefore our lowest performers are hired to teach while the highest performers become doctors, lawyers, CEOs. In countries like Finland, Singapore, South Korea, first-year teaching positions are seen as important as medical residencies – the beginning of an elite career. Teacher-training programs are elite and competitive; but basically anyone can go in the US.


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