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.

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