Saturday, February 19, 2011
Waiting For "Superman"
I used to think I had a pretty good understanding of the history, development, and purpose of schools.
Back in the days of Socrates, education was about insight and the wisdom that results. In more modern times, schools in America have served the function of feeding our economic system. Teachers taught basics that helped future employees be most successful on the 8-4 job they moved into right out of high school or, in some cases, right out of college. Although I have three kids currently enrolled in public schools, I thought our educational system was still working within that functionalist mentality.
I was wrong.
Waiting For "Superman," an incredibly thought-provoking documentary, explores the current state of education in America. How, for example, can students in America score far behind students in other countries in subjects like math, science and reading, but score first among those same countries in academic confidence? In other words: we don't do well at all, but we think we do.
As film director Davis Guggenheim points out, it's because the experience of school is no longer about the student. Education in America is no longer serving the functions of our society, nor is it focused on planting seeds of wisdom in the fertile brains of kids. Nope. Instead, schools have become another place of employment for teachers, administrators, staff, and unions.
Schools are all about serving the needs of adults.
Guggenheim's film isn't dynamic -- there are no Michael Moore-like shenanigans. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.). "Superman" is straight-forward while still well-written and well-directed. Most effective, though, is how Guggenheim lets those he follows in the school system tell their stories. It's dramatic to watch a meeting of the Washington, D.C. teachers' union, as the group refused to even consider a proposal to allow teachers to earn more than double their salaries by giving up tenure and allowing performance reviews. And it's telling to see the minorities in the film, especially those living in poverty, attempting desperately to get their children into the best schools possible. Slots are few, and tuition for those type of schools is high.
Wanna argue with me about the purpose schools serve now?
Waiting For "Superman" points out where the educational system is broken. It tells us how past efforts to over-haul the system have failed. Most important, though, is that Guggenheim challenges us to do something about it. Now. Superman ain't coming, folks. He's not real.
It's up to us.