Waiting for Superman: A Documentary Film on Educational Reform

Yesterday I wrote about the documentary film The Race to Nowhere: The Darkside of America’s Achievement Culture by filmmaker Vicki Abeles.  The film, which will be shown Nationwide later this month, challenges the Federal and corporate reform efforts of standardization and high-stakes testing.  One statement made by Abeles sets the tone:

We cannot wait for large institutions or the government to make the changes our kids need today. Education should not be driven by political and corporate interests. There’s too much evidence that it isn’t working for any of our kids. Layers of change are needed, starting from the ground up.

From the ground up educational reform is a competing approach to educational reform—one that this blog supports, and describes as a humanistic paradigm.   Follow this link to read an interview of Vicki Abeles by Tracy Stevens to further understand Abeles philosophy of schooling.

The competing, and dominant approach (top down) to reform in American schools is a testing and charter school (choice) paradigm that is supported by the Federal Government, most state departments of education in the U.S., Corporate Boards, and the Billionaire’s Boy Club (a chapter title from Diane Ravitch’s book, Death and Life of the Great American School System.  Waiting for Superman, a powerful and new documentary film, offers us a look at this paradigm.

Waiting for Superman

On September 24th, Waiting for Superman (or when disaster strikes in America, heroes rush in) will be shown in selected theaters, nationwide.  The film was produced and directed by Davis Guggenheim, Academy Award Winning Director of An Inconvenient Truth.  The film probes the hopes, dreams, and untapped potential of five kids in different American cities.  It also focuses on several leading educators including Geoff Canada (Director of Harlem’s Children Zone) and Michelle Rhee (Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. schools).  The film “demonizes” the American Federation of Teachers, especially its President, Randi Weingarten, furthering the argument that something is wrong with teachers, and that “we” need to weed out the “bad teachers.”  The film also argues that Charter schools offer a solution to “failing schools.”

One thoughtful review of Waiting for Superman was written by John Merrow, education correspondent for the PBS Newshour.  Merrow, who has seen the film, starts off by saying there is much to admire about the film—the story, the graphics, the characters, especially Geoff Canada.  He also says:

The film strikes me as a mishmash of contradictions and unsupportable generalizations, even half-truths. And while it may make for box office, its message is oversimplified to the point of being insulting….The message of the movie can be reduced to a couple of aphorisms: charter schools are good, unions are bad, and great teachers are good.

There are other reviews of the film. In this review, I found the comments by readers enlightening about the film, especially questioning the assumption that the root of the problem are teachers, or that education can be isolated from the rest of society, thereby suggesting that simply improving schooling will in the long run help the students that need it most.

That said, here is one of the trailer’s for the movie.

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University