When I first heard about Waiting for Superman, I was overjoeyed that there was a documentary explaining how the American educaiton system is broken. I couldn’t believe somebody was actually going to expose it for what it was. I knew that this movie would still be pro school, but at least it could point out some of the issues that plague the education system of the United States. And it did- the movie accurately depicted several different issues of the American Education system, often in heart-rendering ways, and leaving the viewer upset at the end of the movie of why kids don’t get a chance.
Waiting for Superman follows 5 kids and their families who want to go to college and want to have careers, and are doing their best to get into the best schools and be able to stay there. The movie describes the challenges of these kids, and why they need to find a better school, and how difficult it is to do just that. The movie explains how all teachers, even the worst ones, have something called tenure, which means after two years, it takes an incredibly difficult to process to fire a teacher. And that is to fire any teacher at all, even if all they do is sit in class and read a newspaper. The movie also explains how many of these not-so-good teachers are present in the poor and inner city areas. The kids in these areas cannot get away from these teachers. The only option inner city and poor youth have are to attend private schools, which many of them can’t afford. And even if they try to do so, these private and charter schools are wanted by so many parents and kids to teach them that they have to do a lottery to decide who gets in. That means, in an excellent charter school there could only be 10 spaces but 500 applicants. The rests of these kids have to attend their neighborhood schools, which, as the movie says, are often “Dropout Factories” where huge numbers of students never graduate high school. The movie also goes on to portray how teacher’s unions prevent these kids from learning by keeping all the teachers safe, and making sure that there is no differentiation between teachers- that means there are no rewards for excellent teaching, no punishment for poor teachers.
On the bright side, the movie gives examples of exemplary teachers as well. Geoffrey Canada is one of the most interviewed persons in the documentary, he was a teacher who was frustrated at the system and founded a charter school. He also shows two teachers who founded Kipp Charter Schools. These teachers were frustrated with the lack of progress in their school, but were inspired by a next door teacher who used music to get kids to learn. Now, there are several Kipp schools nationwide.
Besides showing what’s wrong with teachers and giving examples of good teachers, the movie also gives other suggestions and uses facts to support their arguments. The movie states that even though everything has been done to change the school system, nothing works, and the gap between rich and poor is the same. The poor were starting to be viewed as not able to learn, but the movie displays facts with the charter schools that the US could catch up to Finland in test scores. The movie’s main focus is on improving test scores of poor people, doing so by extending school hours, having excellent teachers, and caring about the children.
Now, here are my thoughts on the movie. It was good, and did cover several important problems in the US education system- tenure for teachers, teacher’s unions, the lack of education resources for poor and inner city youth, teachers who are terrible, misconceptions about youth living in poverty, why we should care about children, and how to fix all of these problems. However, I feel like at its core, Waiting for Superman is still very pro school, doesn’t go in depth enough about what is wrong, and is too focused on facts and scores. Let’s tackle these three issues one by one.
Waiting for Superman suggest that if teachers are improved and the school day is longer, kids in poverty will learn more and also receive higher test scores. I have two problems with this. First off, the school day doesn’t have to be longer- as a matter of fact, if every single teacher became excellent, the school day could be almost halved. Kids have to have time to play, develop their creativity, spend outside, and explore the world- not spending time reading books about subjects they don’t care about. Kids need to really find out what they love, so they can follow that interest. Kids also have to have time for sports, music, spending time with their families, and any other activities they may be involved in. (such as sleeping…). Second, just because a kid gets higher test scores, it doesn’t mean they are learning. School is generally based on rote memorization, remembering facts for the test which are often forgot afterwards. Do you or your parents remember more than 10% of what you learned in school? Do any students you know remember 10% of what they learned last year?
My second point is that Waiting for Superman misses the mark of what’s wrong with the school system- the school system. The movie seems to be far too focused on making sure the kids in poverty get great test scores and go into college (which I think is great, college is very necessary to get a great education) instead of focusing on what the kid’s want to do with their lives, and whether or not these test scores mean anything.
And that leads into my third points. Waiting for Superman provides a lot of facts, often based on test scores, which is what teacher’s unions and other pro school organizations do. Waiting for Superman also says that if the education system across the nation sees the improvements that the kids in the Kipp charter schools have, the US tests would reach the same heights as Finland, but fails to mention Finland didn’t test their students for a while, and when they did expected to be in the middle of test scores and were shocked to be first.
Overall, this movie is a heart-rendering film that makes you want to help out these kids and fix the education system, but it misses the mark on how it should be fixed and doesn’t go into enough detail, and uses way too many ‘useless’ facts.