What's the status update on an American education? Waiting for "Superman" is worth discussing.
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Waiting for "Superman" is a movie that has created quite a buzz. I heard it first mentioned on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Then it came up on MSNBC's Teacher Town Hall. So, I was quite surprised to see that so few theaters were actually showing this documentary that provides a status update on American education. According to the "Oprah Effect" it seems the movie should have been sold out in every theater for opening weekend. Is Oprah losing her magic touch?
Lucky for me, I live a short distance away from the one theater where Waiting for Superman is currently playing in Michigan. Armed with my notepad and accompanied by a fellow teacher, I bought my ticket. Upon purchase I was given a $15 gift certificate to DonorsChoose. This is an online Web site (as explained by Scholastic blogger Nancy Barile) where you can donate money to fund projects in classrooms. I thought that the gift certificate was a nice touch to promote education (especially since I have a Post-It Note project on the DonorsChoose Web site that I could donate the $15 to!). I took my seat, and I tried not to get too annoyed with all the backlighting from cell phones. The movie began, and I took it all in.
After the movie several United Way representatives invited some of the patrons to a post-movie discussion across the street at a local establishment. My colleague and I decided to join the crowd of about a dozen or so. We chatted for over an hour about our thoughts on the movie. Some interesting points were made.
One elderly gentleman was passionately arguing that the United Way and the producers of this movie have a hidden agenda to promote charter schools and send anti-union messages. Of course, one has to think, why would the United Way hold a discussion with free beverages and appetizers to a small group after each showing of the movie? They report that it is to get people talking about changing education in our country. Could there be a hidden agenda? I suppose it's possible. Regardless, the state of education in the USA needs to be discussed. Finland has been able to turn their educational system around. We cannot keep ignoring our broken and sometimes corrupt system.
After watching the movie I did not get the feeling that it was to promote charter schools, bash teachers, or take down the union; however, I feel it did a nice job of raising questions that we should all talk about. Too often we ignore the elephant in the room to keep the peace among adults. Well, it is time to introduce the elephant and make some changes for the kids. The very kids that will grow up and be making decisions about our retirement. The very kids that may or may not still be living with their parents when they are fifty because they cannot compete in a global market.
Reflecting upon the movie experience, I have a gamut of emotions. I was saddened to be reminded of how political the world is. I was disappointed that the Washington, D.C. union banned a vote to pay teachers according to performance (curious how that vote would have went as money is a big motivator in our society). I was excited at the passion that Michelle Rhee had for taking care of business in Washington, D.C. Lastly, I was glad that this film brought to light issues happening in schools (public and private alike) around the nation.
Yes, there are bad teachers. However, teachers cannot be solely responsible for a child's demise any more than a dentist is held accountable for all the cavities of an irresponsible brusher and flosser. Administrators have to show perseverance and weed out the low performing teachers before tenure. Unions should take initiative and develop fair ways for administrators to do these evaluations. Parents should be held accountable for being involved in the lives of their children. The government should adequately fund education. And, yes, teachers should step it up a notch. The movie gives some great statistics and illustrations on many of these issues. I encourage you to watch it with your colleagues and have some good discussions about how you can change. While there ain't no superman, all of us could be Clark Kent.
What did you think of the movie? Will it create change? Is there a hidden agenda? Should any child ever have a look of disappointment because they didn't win a lottery into a high performing school? What role do you believe unions, tenure, or charter schools should play in our society?
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Flag photos courtesy clker.com.