In the 1950s, public schools were great. They were a product of the American dream. Back then, a public school gave its students top of the line, American education just as well as a smaller private school would have. Somehow in the past fifty years, the American public school system has gone to hell in a hand basket and isn’t showing any signs of coming back. At many, many public schools these days, teachers don’t teach, don’t teach well, or are so wrapped up in themselves that the students cannot understand what they are teaching. “Well,” you ask, “why don’t parents just send their kids to private schools?” I’ll tell you why: because many private schools are too expensive for the average American family to afford. So families are left with two options. Either send your child to public school where he or she will receive a toilet bowl’s education, or send them to private school and go broke doing it. Neither situation is very nice to think about but we sure know we don’t want them in public schools. I go to a nice, private school that costs a pretty penny in tuition, so I don’t really know first hand what public schools are like. Davis Guggenheim’s new documentary, Waiting for “Superman” doesn’t deal much with private schools at all. No, this film is made for those who recognize the problem with public schools, but can’t afford private schools. What are they going to do?
Davis Guggenheim’s film is quick, straightforward, and to the point. He has no qualms about exposing exactly what the problem is in schools: the teachers’ unions. Now I am a supporter of unions. They protect our workers from fraud and greedy businessmen, but the teachers’ unions have taken it too far in demanding tenure and making it virtually impossible for a teacher to be fired. “Superman” follows four or five children who fortunately have a third option: charter schools. Schools run by public funding but not in the “School District” system of contracts and tenure. These schools can fire teachers, approve their own curriculum, and give students the education of a private school for the price of public school. It’s a brilliant and effective alternative. But the movie doesn’t simply idolize charter schools, it also effectively illustrates steps taken by such educators as Michelle Rhee and Geoffrey Canada in improving the public school system. These people have fought and tried to beat the union system, and hopefully at some point will be successful.
The thing that is most compelling about Waiting for “Superman” is that it seems like a very personal project for Guggenheim. The opening minutes of the film describe his former enthusiasm for the public school system, his disappointment in them, and his guilt as he takes his children every morning to a private school. We can tell that he wants to send them to public school, where he will be supporting his country and the American dream, but of course he cannot do that without knowing that his children will be getting a crappy education. Here, he shows us what the alternative could be if strong willed people could just beat the system. If you can’t afford private schools, charter schools are the next best thing, and that is basically the message of the film. Personally, I don’t like movies riddled with ideological mumbo-jumbo, but Waiting for “Superman” is more than that. It is a film made by a man who is deeply concerned trying to inform us about an ever-growing problem in America.
To all of you right-wingers out there who are concerned that this will pour left-wing propaganda down your throat (seeing that Davis Guggenheim also directed An Inconvenient Truth), let not your heart be troubled because this movie is purely a personal piece, neither left nor right, but simply an eye-opening look at a deeply troubling subject made by someone who cares. I’m going to keep this review short, for I think it will serve you (the audience) better if you go in knowing as little about it as possible. What I have done is to give you the basics, now you do the rest. Be a good person, be an American, and go see this film to make a difference. You won’t be disappointed.
Electric Kinney Films and Participation Media present in association with Walden Media
Cast: George Reeves (archive footage). Directed by Davis Guggenheim
Rated PG for some thematic material, mild language and incidental smoking. Release Date: 08 October 2010