Waiting for Superman to Fix All These Shitty Parents
Herein you will find Part II of my review of the blockbuster film Waiting For Superman. Part I can be found here. Part II of the review first appeared, in more or less this form, as a guest post at White Group Mathematics.
At a certain level, it makes no difference whether parents are willfully negligent, stupid, or genuinely incapable of being good parents due to forces beyond their control. At the end of the day, you’re just a shitty parent and other people have to deal with your kids. They do this for a living.
And that’s a big problem if you are a child of such a parent. With shitty parents you miss out on a whole bunch of useful habits and orientations that, having not learned, will mess you up more and more with each passing year. You will offend and generally disenfranchise yourself with more and more people because nobody ever taught you how to act. You’re going to pay for it, and you won’t even know why or when it’s happening. Then we’ll all blame something else, but chances are that won’t help you either.
As The Onion has reported, “there is a big social stigma in this country against lazy, self-centered assholes”. That’s the natural state of childhood and adolescence. Unless there is a strong force, usually in the form of parents, to counteract this, everybody’s default setting between the ages of 5 and 25 is “asshole”.
Waiting for Superman goes to great lengths to avoid exploring the possibility that particular neighborhoods may have a critical mass of shitty parents that take everybody down with them. Perhaps good parents who are already struggling economically now have to struggle extra hard with their kids in school because you are a shitty parent and your shitty kid is taking up a HUGE amount of resources in MY KID’S school. My kid is there to learn and doesn’t get in trouble. I make sure of that. Being poor doesn’t give you or your kid a license to be an irresponsible dick.
In this movie we do not see crack-head parents. We do not see abusive or incarcerated parents. We do not see parents who do not know who their kids are. We do not see what really brings neighborhoods down and keeps them down.
And we learn very little about the specific motivations of the featured parents to get their kids into different schools. As I mentioned in Part I of this review, the story about the white girl was pretty thin and there was an equally thin storyline about a teacher not calling back a parent…indicative of bad teaching and the rot therein. But that’s it. I think what those parents wanted, the parents working to get their kids into charters, is an environment as far away as possible from the shitty kids and parents in their neighborhood schools. But we never hear their real stories or motivations.
To turn this into a story of how teachers and schools have failed children is nothing but a lie.
This movie takes the entire self-regenerating inter-generational quagmire of poverty and shitty parenting and simply says “it doesn’t matter” or “it doesn’t happen”; I’m not sure which. Here’s the real problem. It’s bureaucracies. It’s unions. It’s that teacher who we videotaped that one time reading a magazine.
I’m calling bullshit.
(I’m not even going to talk about the union bashing because that whole line of argument was predicated on the assumption that unions exist primarily to give bad teachers lifetime economic security without ever explaining how we would know the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher.)
Shitty parents=Shitty kids=Suck up all the resources. That’s it. This is not the fault of the teachers who work there or the kids who go to school there. The teachers are already working their asses off to pick up the slack of what other people have left undone. It’s time for kids and parents to get off their asses, too….and not just the 16 who appear in this dumpster juice excuse for a movie.
Waiting for Superman pretends this is not the case. There must be something else that causes black boys who live in shitty neighborhoods and have no idea who their dads are to do poorly in school….it’s most likely teachers unions and low expectations. That’s the only thing that makes sense.
Here’s my absolute most favorite example of the ridiculous logic that is the lifeblood of this film:
Some reformer in some district in California (LA?) was quoting stats from his school. It was something outrageous, like, 60K students had been to this school in 40 years and only 20K had graduated…something crazy like that. And here is his evaluation of these statistics:
“That’s the damage this school has done to this neighborhood”.
REALLY!?!?! Are you fucking serious?!!??
THAT’S why this neighborhood sucks? Because of the damage done to it by the school? There was no crime, mostly stable families, two parents, solid middle income, a prosperous and diversified commercial sector, strong churches and civic organizations in this part of town…and then the school showed up and ruined it all? You think the school is making your neighborhood suck? Really?!? That’s your argument? Are you stupid, or just a terrible liar?
It’s all on teachers. No doubt. But the movie ultimately falls in on itself because it holds out charters as the answer. But not just any charter schools. There is a particular breed of charter schools that are the cream of the crop. Boarding schools, year-round schools, and schools with an aggressively extended school day and year are the winners.
So, what are the lessons?
1) If you have a good parent, even just one who is poor, he or she will work to teach you that you shouldn’t litter and will try to get you into a school that doesn’t have all of your shitty neighbors in it. All of the parents in the movie, and parents like me, will work their asses off to make sure you don’t have to spend all day surrounded by kids who were raised by wolves;
2) The best charter schools in poor urban districts are the ones that implicitly admit everything I am saying: PARENTS AND NEIGHBORHOODS MATTER. That’s why the most successful schools are the ones that take kids away from their parents and neighborhoods for the most time possible by extending the school day and year. This is an admission that the environment you came from is messed up and it really, really matters;
3) Many good parents are trapped in shitty neighborhoods with shitty schools. They should have a choice and the ability to send their kids to a better school. Agreed. But let’s be honest about what makes a school fail. It’s the kids who go there. C’mon…you’re going to judge my performance as a ninth grade teacher according to my students’ scores on the ninth grade test when we already know that only half of them could have passed the fifth grade test? Garbage in, garbage out. It sounds harsh, but that basic principle holds true for almost everything. Literally…almost everything. I’m saying “almost everything” because I am not mentally capable of thinking about “everything” all at the same time. There may be exceptions. Perhaps mediocrity in, mediocrity out, would help smooth the edges.
I’ll make you a much better meal if I start with a two-inch thick slab of aged, grass-fed rib-eye steak and a $40 bottle of Cabernet than I will with a can of SPAM and a two-liter bottle of Hawaiian Punch. We are teachers, not magicians.
America, give us magic wands, or be reasonable. Seriously.