Canada’s comment is captured in the just-released documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” which opened last night in theaters in New York and Los Angeles. The documentary aims to serve as a wake-up call to the nation that our education system is failing, and every aspect of our daily lives will suffer if we do not move aggressively to heed the call.
“Waiting for Superman” was directed by Davis Guggenheim, who also directed the Academy Awarding-winning documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which focused on the global climate change issue.
Guggenheim’s latest film paints a grim picture of the state of education in America. Among 30 developed countries, the United States now ranks 25th in math and 21st in science.
If early indications hold, the film may indeed serve to spark a national debate on education not seen since the 1983 report, “A Nation at Risk,” was released, which also warned of the lasting consequences of failing schools. That report cited dramatic drops in math and science SAT scores by American students over a 20-year period — slippage greater by comparison to students in other advanced countries.
“A Nation at Risk” proceeded to touch off education reforms at the local, state, and federal levels. Twenty-seven years later, it’s apparent that earlier reforms fell far short.
“Waiting for Superman” follows the lives of five children and their families, who are each trying desperately to get their child into a better school. The futures of Daisy, Anthony, Bianca, Emily and Francisco hang in the balance as they hold out hope that their number will be called in lotteries for one of the few slots to charter schools in their respective cities.
In explaining the name of film in an MSNBC interview, Guggenheim notes that the “education system is nearly broken,” and that thousands of people, like these five families, are “waiting for someone to save the schools, and it hasn’t happened.”
Reformers like Geoffrey Canada in Harlem do exist, but they are fighting a fierce headwind of status quo, particularly from teachers’ unions. One of the most vilified reformers is Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of DC’s Public Schools. Rhee has fired several hundred teachers within the last year, who she says were not meeting the grade in the classroom.
“Waiting for Superman” points out that one in 57 doctors each year lose their license for bad performance; one in 97 attorneys lose their law license; while only one in 2,500 teachers lose their credentials.
There is no one superman or superwoman, but there are those who are trying to find a new path in education, and we should all work with them. Administrators, teachers, parents, corporate America, and the public need to roll up our collective sleeves and get to work – challenging the current system and seeking to find new ways to teach and excite children.
Our country, our economy, and our future depend on it.