Still “Waiting for Superman”: Education Reform or Lack Thereof

13 Oct

The longly anticipated education reform-based documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” finally reached select theaters last Friday. As a sibling of a teacher and fan of all that is documentary film, I anxiously awaited the film opening. As if the trailer’s incorporation of Matisyahu’s “One Day” wasn’t convincing enough, the first few emotion-driven camera angles and sound effects sucked me in.

The film centers around five kids lost in the current education system. We see the family struggle, the parents’ unwillingness to accept their children’s projected failure. With the exception of maybe Emily (a girl from the suburbs…I don’t buy it), the charter schools will determine their fate. If they aren’t lucky enough to make the lottery, they won’t make it…anywhere (unless you consider the slammer a few streets over an appealing alternative). The film taught me to look well beyond the politics. In a simple human way, I felt for the family. In these cases it wasn’t lack of parent involvement or passion. It was all a matter of chance. You are born into this system and that’s that. But with every child showcased in this film comes another thousand that don’t have overly passionate role models. At no fault of their own, children born into this alternative environment help fuel the cracked system. But how does the average citizen handle this problem? We continue to throw our hands up and surrender to the mess. In layman’s terms, the apathetic call the shots.

I am with company in this when I say the lottery was my lottery. I could have easily been in that role. That could’ve been my neighbor or my childhood best friend. Now that is what makes a film amazing. These were real people and there’s no way an audience member couldn’t feel that connection.

As aforementioned, the main culprits are the ones who comprehend the disconnect yet stay immobile. The blame doesn’t end there.

Although we’d like to believe the film was a beautiful work of art with no lean–there was a lean, oh was there a lean. The bias was clear: teacher unions are what prevent change and the unqualified D.C. School Districts Chancellor, Michelle Rhee has absolutely no idea what she is doing (I’m still not even sure how she ended up with this job-she’d unquestionably make a pretty scary elementary school teacher). Parent involvement isn’t the main issue and charter schools will solve everything. After the charter school trend is implemented, we’ll reign as world leaders once again. It’s like Sputnik-era superiority all over again!

Before we ambush the streets with our patriotic “USA! USA!” chants, I’d have to proclaim-I disagree (Again, this is what I love about documentaries. I can disagree in part with them yet love the film nonetheless). Obviously the apathetic are in large part to blame. In congruence with most of history, the silent are at greatest fault. Where our opinions diverge, however, is in the belief that charter schools will magically solve world hunger. To me that is saying that despite poverty and gang violence, all students can become neurosurgeons if they ‘just put their mind to it.’ Obviously every child is capable of success. Where they fall in the socio-economic ladder isn’t an indicator of their potential to thrive. It is (unfortunately) a very influential factor. It takes a village, a very attentive and overbearing village.

To backtrack a bit, charter schools aren’t all the same and their successes aren’t isolated incidents. The film does mention that charter schools focus on a range of subjects from music to general academic achievement. This variability makes these schools even less comparable. Additionally, the whole premise of the charter school is to succeed. The parents who put these kids in the lottery want their child to succeed. The teachers who work there want the children to succeed. Anyone who has taken a psychology course (or even walked passed the psychology building) could tell you positive affirmation creates positive outcome. Just by going into this school with the “we can do this” attitude, the kids already have a better chance at success and a resulting–by the universalized definition–future.

I don’t intend to put down charter schools by any means. But if we are to go about generalizing entire school systems, we could just generalize that these school systems work because we are putting in extra time to make them work. So what about the drop out factory a few blocks south of downtown? What happens to that school once we place all the ‘lemon’ (reject) teachers there? It’s multifaceted and one film could not solve the issue in any realm. What it does do is cause us to feel a bit more uneasy, the perfect seed for real reform.

“Waiting for Superman” is playing at Landmark Theatres Hillcrest Cinemas. Check out movie times at


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