It may be that “Waiting for Superman” is for public education what “An Inconvenient Truth” was for global warming. This isn’t a huge surprise since both are the brainchild of the same director/producer, Davis Guggenheim, who was at Wednesday’s SFIFF screening to introduce the film and entertain audience questions afterward. Superman, though, is a tear-jerker, so be prepared.

There is little debate that U.S. public schools are ailing and in dire need of reinvention – especially in large urban areas. There IS, however, a great deal of debate regarding the culprits behind the decline. That much was clearly evidenced by the audience questions and discussion that took place after the film. There was no doubt that Wednesday’s showing drew a huge number of Bay Area educators.

Guggenheim’s film zones in largely on teachers unions and tenure as two of the primary villains. The unions, tenure, and teaching contracts, according to the film, prevent necessary change from taking place in the schools.

After talking to some of my educator friends, some of whom have seen the film and some of whom have not, I’m not so sure, though, that I buy into the idea of blaming the decay of American public schools on one or two groups of villains. It seems to me that the real culprit here is not just the teachers who oppose merit-based pay (which, where implemented, hasn’t solved all of the problems) or changes to their contracts, the unions, the corrupt school boards, or even the administration or central office – but instead might just be the collective American public which doesn’t always seem to possess the political will to care for and educate its children.

Regardless of the identity of the villain or villains, I agree wholeheartedly with Guggenheim and Superman that something needs to be done so that we aren’t leaving the fate of children up to a lottery process as random as a bingo game.

Guggenhim’s film followed several students, all of whom are individually, and as a family, struggling to obtain an education and avoid the “drop-out factories” they are slated to attend. I was on the edge of my seat, crossing our fingers with Daisy, one of the several kids featured in the film, as she hoped and waited for her name to be called in the Los Angeles lottery she participated in.

I won’t tell you how things turned out for Daisy, but it did occur to me, that even if Superman’s Daisy got into the public college-prep school she was aiming for, there would be another ten “Daisys” out there who did not. So sad. Really.

“Waiting for Superman” hits the theaters in September. It is a must-see regardless of your views on what’s ailing public education.

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!
  • Greg Dewar

    why is it parents are always left off the hook in these debates? There is no law requiring them to buy their kids Xboxes and Wiis, letting them sit in front of the tv for hours, goofing on the internet, and letting them run around with no rules and no discipline and generally screwing around. Parents that don’t take responsibility for raising their kids had no business having any in the first place. And those that do, who have kids who want to learn, have to have the distraction of the rude kids who screw everything up.

  • Sarah

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I wanted to cry just watching the preview at the theater last night. As a teacher, I work everyday to help these children become better, more productive citizens. I wish I taught students like those that were waiting for their number to be called in the lottery. I do not have tenure, in fact I have yet to even get a raise. Next year I will lose 5% of my salary because the state and federal government have put education as a low priority so my district is making cuts to our salaries and supplies, and I will still spend over five hundred dollars of my own money purchasing supplies and other tools for my students. I resent the idea that it’s the teachers fault for poor student performance. I fight to change the beliefs of the students I work with every day because when I ask my seventh graders what they want to be when they are older they tell me “a stinky bum because people will give me money and food for nothing” or “I’ll rob banks till I get caught and put in jail where I will get meals and not have to work” not ” I want to be president” or “I want to own my own business”. Many of my students have no motivation and see the future as an easy hand out. To give us performance pay implies that we are working with willing participants, which includes not only the student, but their family, the community, and for that matter the school district. I do not work with many of these “willing participants”, though I encourage and nurture them in my classroom. For example, I administered the state standardized test recently which I know directly effect my employment, but my students don’t feel it effects them at all. They had an unlimited amount of time within the school day to complete the test, but most of the students bubbled in letters and were done in five minutes, not even pretending to “take the test” and crack open the test booklet. All I can do is tell them to look it over again. For weeks before the test, we had been telling them how important it was that they do their best, try hard, and worked to review materials so the students would be ready. Should teachers be held accountable for students who choose not to be willing participants? Why aren’t all involved parties held accountable?