Waiting for a better look at the American education system: “Waiting for Superman”
David Guggenheim, the man who brought us “An Inconvenient Truth”, has done it again: he’s created a documentary that is not only informative, but also quite moving and inspiring. Despite this, I found myself doubting the movie’s advice. “Waiting for Superman” followed a handful of individual children, with lingering shots on the darndest things kids say. Although this approach gave us a personal window into what it’s like to be going to a failing school, specifically by following struggling parents, the movie seemed far too one-sided to present a convincing argument.
It’s hard to mark down a documentary on childrens’ education without seeming heartless, but here I go: the interviews were heavy-handed, and while the animations were informative, I left feeling as if I still wasn’t sure what to do. Guggenheim paints the teachers unions as the definite bad guys, standing in the way of reform because of monetary incentives; he presents charter schools as the only reasonable solution, but fails to elaborate with balanced evidence. The ending credits spam us with instructions to donate (text POSSIBLE to 77177 appeared three times), but I am reluctant to do so.
(“An Inconvenient Truth” was different. There, science was indisputable, and the call to arms against global warming was much needed. Even there though, I couldn’t get over the urge to gag when I saw “tell everyone you know about this movie”.)
For the first half of the movie, I really was moved. I wanted to do something, anything, to help – I even considered (briefly and rather childishly) joining Teach for America or interning under Michelle Rhee, the current chancellor of DC’s public school system, who is painted as a freedom fighter for progressive changes that include dissolution of tenure. And then I stopped to think. Everything felt too perfect – a problem is presented with children who aren’t getting an education, adults are painted as good or bad (fighting for or against changes to the current system), and ta-da, charter schools are presented as a miracle solution.
What really cinches the movie, however, is the end: we follow these children we’ve come to love as they go up in their respective charter-school lotteries, and we hope, hold our breath, praying that they must be accepted. In fact, we even go so far to feel that they must be accepted; how could they return to their currently failing schools? But of course, not everyone can get in; there are many more children than open seats; the odds are against the children. The camera never flinches as the number of open seats counts down to zero, until it is certain, most of these children will not be going to charter schools.
I must applaud Guggenheim on this brilliant one-two punch. The whole audience gasped, moaned, and I’m sure I even heard some people crying. We had not yet recovered, despite a bittersweet ending; right when we were at our most vulnerable, credits began rolling. They were even interspersed with a summary of the movie’s message, just in case someone missed something.
I can’t say that this documentary wasn’t eye-opening – it truly was, and I am inspired to look further at this issue. Orion will say I’m just mad that someone has made me feel something, but what I’m angry about is the way the movie tried to feed us its writers’ ideas for solutions. Everyone should see this, first to be educated about education; if for nothing else, to study how easily and dramatically an audience can be manipulated.
No rating, because this is too complicated for me to decide on a score.