david_guggenheim_web.jpgMy junior year in high school, my school decided to hire as a math teacher a former teacher’s aide, who, incidentally, made me hate math for the rest of my life.  I couldn’t believe it. So, my friend Lola and I campaigned and wrote letters to the school administration to have this man fired.

It didn’t work, at first, but after one year of student and parental complaints, he was gone.

That is one example of the difficult situations that children face with their teachers every day — only they’re not as lucky as I was.

In Waiting for Superman, Davis Guggenheim addresses the failures of the American public school system and why it’s failing. He looks at public schools across the country, interviewing students, parents, administrators.

The general consensus is that there are good teachers and bad teachers but schools mostly in lower-income neighborhoods have more than their fair share of bad teachers. 

The documentary says bad teachers can’t be fired because of the policies set in place to protect teachers generally, such as tenure after two years.  So teachers can do just about anything and not get fired, up to and including putting a child’s head into a soiled toilet.  As a result of bad teachers, the children of America aren’t learning.

But it’s not just in lower income neighborhoods. Some school systems track students based on big and minor details such as test scores and hygiene. Those with lower standards are put on the low track of a downward spiral — and, vice versa. 

Unlike most documentaries, this film seems to have a villain and a hero, with the innocent somewhere in the middle. The villain is Randi Weingarten, chairman of the American Federation of Teachers.  For most of the film, she defends all teachers, and pumps them up as America’s heroes.  There isn’t anything wrong with that, except that not all teachers are heroes. 

 A hero doesn’t sit by and not teach her students, thus making them ill-prepared for the real world.  Weingarten is short-sighted defending all teachers, including the bad, and has lost sight of the reason they are teachers in the first place; it is to help children learn.

As for the hero, it is Geoffrey Canada and his charter school, Harlem Success Academy. The Academy is one representation of the charter schools throughout the United States that act as a bridge for the large gap between education in upper-middle class communities and education in the lower income communities. 

The innocents, we quickly find out, are the children and their parents – parents who will do whatever it takes for their children to get a good education, go to college and get a shot at a good career. 

Guggenheim introduces us to Anthony, in Washington, D.C.; Daisy in Los Angeles, Calif.; Francisco in The Bronx, N.Y.; Bianca in Harlem; and Emily in Redwood City, Calif. They are among a host of people whom he identifies as working to improve education with or without the help of the nation’s leaders.

The drama in this film centers on whether any of the five children will be picked in a lottery to attend a charter school in their areas.  Guggenheim takes you through each child’s story. 

I have to admit that after watching this heart-wrenching movie, I wished it was fiction. I was in tears.  I just couldn’t believe that, in a land with so much opportunity, more and more of our youth are shut out with each passing year.

 None other than the billionaire Bill Gates of Microsoft fame estimates that because of the low quality of education, there won’t be enough people to take the high tech jobs that will be available in 20 years for children in elementary school now.

This is a film which you must see with your kids and it is a film that will make you want to do something to help.  It’s hard to just sit back and watch as children are less and less educated.

The first thing an audience member can do is log on to www.waitingforsuperman.com and commit to seeing the film.  After a certain number of commitments, a donation will be made to a school of your choosing.  If you’re really moved by this documentary, you can text “possible” to 77177 to get updates on education reform. For those of you who are really passionate and fancy yourself writers, you can write a letter to the governor to initiate change. 

Waiting for Superman is a wonderful, educational documentary and all parents owe it to themselves to watch it.

Kimberly Grant may be reached at KAliciaG@aol.com.


Pictured:  Davis Guggenheim