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A Review: Waiting for Superman

Tonight I got the opportunity to watch a private viewing of the new critically acclaimed documentary film titled Waiting for Superman, made by director Davis Guggenheim (who won a 2006 Academy Award for An Inconvenient Truth). It is being released this Friday (A must see). The film delves through the various facets of the failing education system and the cultural and social aspects of our society that create “drop out factories, academic sinkholes”, and ultimately shape a country that has not been able to reform the school system after attempting for multiple decades.

Overall the film was amazing, while following the lives of 5 students and their families it displayed an authentic and heartwarming view of the struggles and sacrifices made to find a good education in the 21st century. The film breaks down the negative realities of the incoherent and inconsistent academic standards that exist around country and through Geoffery Canada (Founder of the Harlem Children’s Promise Zone), it also sheds light on how to architect a school that believes it takes a “village to raise a child.”

The film simply touched too many subjects for me to fit into one blog, but I want to touch on some important themes that are cultivated through documentation of people’s genuine lives and raw stories.

Superman Saving Us- The whole film revolves around this theme of the original superman television show and repeatedly cuts to an image of superman saving school kids from different predicaments.  This evolves into a metaphor of the school system here in the United States and how many presidents, leaders, and movers have tried to tackle the education system, and how ultimately they have all failed. So what’s left? The only option seems to be pointing at some type of supernatural intervention that parents and their kids are waiting for: a superman. The point being to evoke some type of anger that will hopefully turn into some type of action from the audience that gets a glimpse into a problem in education that continues to plague our country.

Bureaucracies- We all hate it, we all experience it in some shape or form, and in this movie we see a clear picture of how it burdens the education system. One of the pundits in the film explains how “bureaucracies have become an impediment for reform.” And I agree one hundred percent. Between school boards for each school district, state laws, local influences, federal law, superintendents and more, it is not a surprise that our country has difficulty finding any clarity or continuity within the education system.

Teachers and Tenure- This was one of the more controversial themes in the film, only because some view this dialogue as “attacking teachers.” I would argue the contrary. I don’t think it attacks teachers, I think it attacks bad teachers. (which to me are two different species) The theme of tenure for teachers comes up as a negative aspect that is hurting our school system. The film interrogates and challenges this theory that teachers should have automatic tenure. It also gives a short history of how tenure came about and why it has gone a bit too far. When it comes to bad teachers in the school system it becomes problematic when they become too comfortable, too complacent, and too eased when educating young people (or not educating). One statistic that came up in the movie was how 1 out of every 57 doctors lose their license to practice, 1 out of every 97 lawyers are stripped of their bar, but only 1 out of every 2500 teachers lose their credentials. The movie also paints an overall negative view of teacher unions. (this might be one of the main things I disagree with, and one of the most debatable aspects of the film).  But I must agree, tenure is problematic.

As Always…Funding- You cannot have a film about education without discussing funding. The film of course demands more funding and subliminally implores the audience to demand funding for our education systems. They explain how the average prisoner gets 33,000 dollars each year, and how it would only cost a forth of that to send a child to a private school for a year. (we all know something is clearly wrong with our priorities with funding in this country).

The film is not perfect, but it is necessary. Some will not like how it depicts teachers, others will talk about the multitude of material that is taken out of context in the film, and others might even mention how it sometimes fails at simple critical and factual narrative. But overall, I would call this film an excellent piece of insight into the problems that youth and families are going through when interacting with the education system. Go and support this movie, you wont be disappointed!


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