Friday, August 5, 2011

Movie Review: "Waiting for 'Superman'"

Last night, Shane and I watched "Waiting for 'Superman'". It's a documentary on the public school system in America - basically an exposé on how/why it is failing - and it offers suggestions on what can be done to bring about change. I watched it because I've heard it mentioned a lot lately, and I was curious what solutions it offered to solve the problem - especially to see if it made mention of homeschooling and if so, what light it was presented in. Unfortunately, homeschooling was not mentioned even once so I was disappointed there. However, the movie does do an excellent job of very clearly illuminating one major facet of the problem, which is: the teachers. Specifically, that it is nearly impossible to punish or remove "bad" teachers, and that there is no way to reward or provide any kind of incentive for "good" teachers, because of the restrictions in place as a result of the teachers' unions. I think this is a very good point. Desks, walls, books, technology - none of that stuff matters if you don't have a decent teacher in charge. Some teachers are very good, some are mediocre, and some are quite bad. The system treats them all as equals, though - "a teacher, is a teacher, is a teacher." In what other professional field in the world is your job performance completely irrelevant to your continuing to be employed?! And few other jobs have a higher level of responsibility attached to them - job performance absolutely SHOULD be relevant! I watched this thinking, "How can any parent trust these people - this system - with their kids? How can they even let them walk in the door?" The way the whole system currently works is an outrage.

That being said, I don't think that is the only problem with the system. The documentary follows several young students and their families in different cities across the country, showing their struggles with the school systems (from inner-city to high-income districts), with dedicated parents fighting for their kids to get the best chance at a good education. But it does not show or make any mention of the kids whose parents are not fighting for them. What about the kids whose parents wash their hands of any responsibility for their kids' educations, and just say, "That's the school's job, not mine." To me, that's even more of an outrage, and it makes me feel very hopeless. I don't know what can be done to fix that, although my heart hurts for those kids who are being short-changed by both their schools and their parents. There is no mention at all in this movie of the function of parents or the breakdown of the family unit in our society today as being part of the problem.

Then there is the actual methodology that is used, the whole institutional framework, the inflexibility of the curriculum... the list of problems with the system goes on and on. The movie doesn't really touch on any of these either, other than one quick mention of a teacher who was getting amazing results after teaching math facts to her students by making them into a rap song that the kids enjoyed and memorized. So she used a different method of teaching than the standard method and it worked better? Shocking! That's the kind of stuff homeschoolers do all the time.

Overall, I think this movie was very well done. It definitely reaffirmed for me that I have made the right choice in rejecting this deeply flawed, broken system. Even though I think the scope was a bit too narrow, and I don't agree with all of the solutions offered (one of which is longer school days - NO!!) it is totally worth taking the time to watch and I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that the breakdown of the family is one big underlying cause: when kids don't have a good family foundation, how can they excel at anything?

    My mom was a teacher for 30 years. During her career, she watched kids change a lot. She says that in the early years, most kids were polite, tried hard, and wanted to learn. By the end of her career, she spent more time dealing with discipline problems than actually teaching. And about half the time, a parent would show up the next day and yell at her for picking on their kid!

    I think we ask teachers to do an impossible task: take these 25-30 kids, all at different levels and from different backgrounds, and in only 9 months, teach them something that only about a third of them even care about, so that they can all score well on a long, boring test. Who could do that?

    Haven't seen Waiting for Superman, but like you said, everyone is talking about it, so I really want to see it! I'm sorry they didn't mention homeschooling as a real alternative to public school--I really think the time has come for families to take charge of their kids' education!

    I know what you mean about kids getting short-changed in their education. It makes me really sad for them, and so grateful that we can homeschool! :)

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