photo © 2010 Wesley Fryer | more info (via: Wylio)
Recently our local theater screened Waiting for Superman and enticed local educators to see it with a discount. I got my ticket, tasteless overpriced popcorn, overpriced drink and settled in to see what the hype was about. Well, I had to get back up to go complain about the volume before I could relax and watch but not necessarily enjoy the movie.
I watched how the filmmakers followed five students along with their parents wanted to go to various charter schools because for one reason or another their local school was a "Failure Factory." The problem each family had was there was not enough room in the selected schools. To solve this problem the schools held a lottery to determine who entered the next school year and who did not. The film went on to highlight problems in education. Most of the problems I agreed with such as the failure of No Child Left Behind, too much bureaucracy taking away money from classrooms, and maybe teacher unions possibly stifling innovation. The idea of charter schools sounds like a good one when run properly.
What I did not care for was the constant bashing or indifference the filmmakers gave the teaching profession as a whole. Yes, they constantly said most teachers were doing a great job but that was before showing teachers doing acts of incompetence over and over again. Usually this was being done in league with unions who were portrayed as bastions of the status quo. What audiences did not see were students who want to be disruptive. Even better, these students have no stable home life to speak of or their parents excuse away their child's behavior instead of dealing with it. Audiences also did not see parents who try to bully teachers into giving their child a grade that was not earned instead of listening to why the child may have got the grade to begin with. Audiences did not see how bureaucratic procedures in the name of improving education actually take time away from helping children. Audiences may have seen bad teachers playing cards or reading a newspaper in a special room waiting on a disciplinary hearing but did not see teachers working at home into the night grading papers or preparing lesson plans with no overtime pay. Speaking of pay, I did not see one teacher in the movie use his or her own money to pay for classroom supplies because the school cannot provide them. Finally, in the movie each lottery showed hundreds, maybe around a thousand at the most hoping for a seat in a charter school lottery. It would have been more telling if there were thousands of families trying to get those few seats for the upcoming school year.
All throughout the movie other audience members were reacting at times the filmmakers wanted an emotional response. Usually it was when teachers were made to look bad or the poor children who only want to learn were denied that opportunity because of some incompetence or indifference. I wanted to scream "They are not telling the whole story!" Author P.J. O'Rourke observed in his book "Parliament of Whores" that the drug problem in this country could end tomorrow but there is a lack of will in our society to take the steps necessary. I believe the same observation is true in education. Until our society gets serious about education reform things will continue as they have been. A professor in my teacher training told us that education is like a big, fat dinosaur. You can push in certain areas and only the fat will move a little but the whole dinosaur will not move an inch. Only when everyone is pushing together will things change. That means everyone needs to understand the problem as a whole. When that happens we won't need Superman.