Monday, November 15, 2010

Movie "Waiting for Superman"

A small group from the School of Education went out of our way to see the film Waiting for Superman.  It is an attempt to stir people on the subject of American education. 

(I try with that last sentence to convey the general area of the documentary as dispassionately as possible.  In our hyper-communicative, hyper-pushy, hyper-commercial world, most ideas, programs and issues are presented in the most dramatic way the creators think will be accepted, in order to gather attention, energy and concern.)

To my mind, the film does a pretty good job.  It clearly raises issues that matter, such as the effect of good, engaged, savvy teachers and the effect of the opposite sorts of teachers.  It focuses on a small group of students, mostly members of a minority, hoping to be accepted into charter schools that have a reputation for good education.  The schools have more applicants than can be accommodated and much is made of the feelings of disappointment and despair the students and their devoted parents feel when a random draw does not allow them to attend.  The students and schools are widely dispersed around the country but all are in large cities. 

The film is a good, overall introduction to aspects of current K-12 education in the US.  It does tend to imply that everyone who goes to college will have a good life afterward and that without college, an American can't have a good life.  I know there are other sorts of opportunities for those who finish high school but don't want or can't afford college, even though the numbers in general support the notion that some type of post-high school education is very important.  In fact, some educators have stressed that the schools and American society in general implies too much that college is as essential as oxygen.

The film also tends to rely very heavily on mass testing data for its conclusions.  I am not sure what else they might have used, but I know, and most educators know, that test results are only a crude measure.

The movie is worth seeing.  I see that the book is doing very well on the NY Times Best Seller List.  Here is a review from the Harvard Crimson.

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