Tonight my feathers have been rustling over the soon to be released documentary, Waiting for SupermanBefore I go on, take a look at the trailer.

Okay, here we go. So when I first watched the trailer I immediately felt doom and gloom come swarming down from above.  I knew exactly where the movie was heading.  The long and short of it: “Education is broken. It needs to be fixed.” But we all knew that anyway.  Sprinkle in some Michelle Ree, some Arne Duncan, some Geoffrey Canada and you’ve got all of the big names in school reform.  The problem? I assume that there’s a lot of discussion about what’s wrong and a lot of generic, crowd-pleasing rhetoric about how education needs to change. Kids don’t have a chance when the teachers are incompetent and a child’s only chance is to get into a lauded charter school like KIPP or The Harlem Children’s Zone‘s Promise Academies.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that the HCZ has done wonderful things and is a great initiative.  It’s also funded largely by private donations.

I predict that teachers’ unions will be blasted, that Randi Weingarten will be made to look like the devil and that there will be no concrete examples given of successful schools that are NOT charter schools.  I also predict that there will be a lot of talking heads and not a lot of actual teachers in the movie, further perpetuating the myth that we are stupid and don’t know what we’re doing.   There will definitely not be an appearance by Diane Ravitch.

I guess what worries me is that this movie is wonderful mid-term election fodder and it will stray the conversation from the real issues of ineffective government accountability policies, lack of funding and an overall lack of creative vision when it comes to education. In addition, I fear it will perpetuate the idea that the US is at ‘war’ with other countries to get back on top when it comes to education. If we are trying to ‘win,’ then, as described in a recent Newsweek article, The Creativity Crisis, we’re not doing a very good job.

When faculty of a major Chinese university asked Plucker to identify trends in American education, he described our focus on standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing. “After my answer was translated, they just started laughing out loud,” Plucker says. “They said, ‘You’re racing toward our old model. But we’re racing toward your model, as fast as we can.’ ”

Everyone else in the world seems to have figured out that inquiry and problem-based learning creates a better learner and a better citizen.  Education is not a battlefield.  If we treat it like one, then yes, we will end up with the system we have today.  Or as Neil Postman spells out in Teaching as a Subversive Activity:

The institution we call “school” is what it is because we made it that way. If it is irrelevant…if it shields children from reality…if it educates for obsolescence…if it does not develop intelligence…if it avoids the promotion of significant learnings…if it induces alienation…if it punishes creativity and independence…if, in short, it is not doing what needs to be done, it can be changed; it must be changed.

 And that was in 1971.

So I hope that this movie will address the real issues. I hope that all of the rhetoric on the website about changing the education system and “demanding world class standards for all students” doesn’t turn out to be a marketing ploy.  I definitely plan on making a point to see it as soon as it comes out.  If you do buy a ticket to see the movie, and you get a Donors Choose voucher, use it to help fund my project!  I do have to thank them for that.

For more commentary on the film, check out these posts:

An Inconvenient Superman by Rick Ayers
Waiting for Superman Sends Educators to Detention Hall by Bonnie Goldstein


  1. bfteach


    awesome post – pretty much sums up my feelings/concerns about the film – good stuff – Brian – (@iteach4change)

  2. Karyn @2ndgradetchr


    Great post Mary Beth! I think that it is fantastic that Waiting for Superman is supporting public school classrooms through Donor's Choose. I also think that it is fantastic that they are raising awareness about the state of public education in general.

    All the talk of reforms seems to focus on the assumption that one type of school is better than others. There are good schools of every variety out there (and there are also not so good schools of every variety out there). I happen to teach at a charter school, but that doesn't mean those are the only answer.

    Thanks for all the links and further info, great reading!

  3. Reply

    Excellent post. I couldn't agree more. We should try and put together a counter argument to the film. A real look at schools that work and the teachers that make them happen.

  4. aphillieteacher


    I first saw the trailer at the movies this summer and was absolutely floored. The white-knuckle wait to see if a child's number was picked for a charter . . the hopeless sense that the child's entire future was doomed if he couldn't go to a charter . . horrible.

    When do we teachers get a chance to make *our* movie? "Up the Down Staircase" is a little out of date. Time for something current, don't you think?

    I plan to see the movie when it comes out. And I agree that the timing was well planned, just in time for elections. Scary.

  5. Reply

    I am so willing to take a leave of absence next year and help with a film that shows the successes in classrooms all over the country. Heck – maybe I'll even write to Mr. Gates and ask for some money to do so.

    This film, like nearly all documentaries, will show a bias toward one viewpoint. But it will be a HUGE hit when it comes out. Those who don't "know" will take the information as fact. And that signals a turning point for public education – either we collectively figure this out or we get eaten alive. I'm hoping for the first option, to be honest.

  6. Deb


    Well said Mary Beth – you write beautifully… obviously some great teachers in your past! Please don't think that the US teachers are alone with regard to these issues – here in Australia public education continues to be a battlefield of national testing and "value-adding" …nothing like a bit of economic rationalism applied to child education! The divide between the "haves and the have-nots" is widening everyday here – we have a federal government who pours money into elite schools and then wonders why teachers in the public system cry "Foul!" Meanwhile they have brought a "national curriculum" to the altar and spent millions upsetting ALL the stakeholders – quite an accomplishment!
    As the parent of a child currently in 4th grade I am daily thankful for the gifted teachers he has secured for the remainder of our school year but I must admit to losing sleep at night worrying that he will be offered a differentiated curriculum again next year! So much is dependent on the individual teacher and their motivation and dedication.
    It takes a lot of prayer to hold on sometimes!

  7. Reply

    I agree, everyone, that we need to have our voices heard. For too long, decisions about public education have been made without teacher input. Too many times we feel like things are being done TO us, not WITH us.

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