Tonight my feathers have been rustling over the soon to be released documentary, Waiting for Superman. Before 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