Teachbad Watches “Waiting For Superman”, Part I
I know I’m a little late to this party.
Remarkably, I have not seen the blockbuster film Waiting For Superman…until yesterday.
I have, of course, been aware of this movie and heard what many people, especially teachers, have had to say about it. It will not surprise you that, generally, people in my circle have not liked this movie. (By the way, I borrowed it from the public library, so I didn’t pay for it. But, ironically, I suddenly think I might be in favor of more censorship in public libraries.)
I have not read reviews of the movie, but I have passively absorbed the disgust and revulsion emanating from the pores of friends and colleagues. It was such big news that I intentionally avoided seeing it and reading about it. (You won’t catch me following the crowd.) Now that nobody cares anymore, I thought it was time to see for myself.
At long last, here is the official Mr. Teachbad Review of Waiting for Superman:
There is nothing…NOTHING…that Americans like more than a cute, non-white kid between the ages of 5 and 11 looking attentive and excited in school and then raising his hand; then looking even more attentive, hopeful and empowered than before…and we didn’t even know that was possible. We can’t even stand it. It makes our little hearts swell and we’ll do anything for you if you promise us that you will help this kid and snuggle him and make sure that he is OK. You just can’t beat that. Don’t even try because you’ll look like an asshole.
The movie is great with imagery. Rough footage of crowded, crappy-looking school buildings juxtaposed with low-income parents who, despite their lack of wealth, are determined to do anything and everything they can do to get the best possible education for their kids. (There is also comically scary music playing when the discussion turns to the teachers’ unions and their contributions to the Democratic Party. Spoiler Alert: It turns out that Democrats hate poor kids.)
Watching this film I never had any doubt that the parents and kids in it were absolutely genuine. As an observation of documentary film-making, which I am in no way qualified to make, it holds up well in that respect. It uses real people and their very real emotions as a tool to create emotion in the viewer. It’s pretty effective, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
It wants us to feel a certain way in order that we might believe and do certain things. I believe this is called persuasion. At the end of the movie, I really wanted all those kids to get picked in the lotteries for the charter schools. I would be a total dick if I didn’t feel that way…after seeing how hard everybody had struggled and all.
The movie’s second weapon is an awe-inspiring ability to ignore huge tracts of evidence and wide swaths of ideas and data in order to create a desired, predetermined reality. There are a lot of numbers and graphs and maps that are used extremely liberally, and with no discussion or counterpoint, to support a narrative that goes something like this:
Poor, minority kids work super hard all the time but public school teachers hate them almost as much as the Democrats hate them and that’s why they don’t know how to read.
(And to add diversity, the movie included a very thin storyline about a white girl in the suburbs who wanted to go to a charter school because her parents were afraid she might be “tracked” at the regular school. Call me a cynic, but the girl seemed to be put there simply because she was white and from the suburbs. This is important because we need white people with money to feel like they are being oppressed as well so that they will give some of their money to Michelle Rhee and her people. Have I got that about right?)
But the real sin here is the Sin of Omission. Where are the parents we don’t see? We are spoon-fed several people who seem to be excellent parents working under difficult conditions of stress and need. Part of what makes them excellent parents is that they know that an environment full of peers who are acting crazy is not where they want their children to be. They take the time to notice and then act. They go to meetings about schools. This is not news, but the kids with parents who are willing and able to do the research and legwork required to enroll them in alternative schools have a leg up.
I am experiencing this, again, right now. I taught at my neighborhood elementary school and there is no way I would have sent my kids there. Not because of teachers or the teachers’ union or the bureaucracy or the principal (the best boss I have ever had), but because of the kids. It was a school filled with poor kids who acted poorly. I have provided the details of this school elsewhere. So my wife and I (that’s two parents) spent a lot of time finding another school. Now we are doing it again because there is no way in hell my kid is going to a Ward 5 public middle school in Washington, DC. Again, not because of the teachers, but because I know the kids who are going to be there.
Back to the movie…
Where were we?…yes…the Sin of Omission…
This film ignores the fact that a critical mass of parents who send their kids to “failing schools” are not determined to do anything and everything they can to get the best possible eduction for their kids. Rather, they are shitty parents…
Part II coming soon…