*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I really wanted to like Waiting for Superman. I did. But unless you're
completely oblivious to any and everything about Public Education in
the United States (and yes, that includes Universities, which is oddly
omitted entirely) I guess you could find this documentary somehow
Simply put, it isn't.
It broadsides the politicization of the Education system, but only scratches the surface. To wit, the film lobbies an aluminum can at the tank of Teachers' Unions, but never delves deeper than "self-interested" or "invest a lot of money in the Democratic Party." It also blasts a Nerf ball at the size and scope of bureaucratic regulation ("It's so confusing!"), but doesn't line this out or address it in any great detail.
The real problem never mentioned? The socio-politicization of Education. Not once is this sacred cow brought up to altar and dissected. The racial/identity politics games of urban schools have crushed them.
Parochial/Private schools are put on a pedestal in this film, yet "Superman" never explains why Parochial schools generate "better" education than their public counterparts. It's just assumed as some twisted scientific law that if you can afford to send your child to a Parochial school ($500/month, as one mother pays for her daughter) they're going to perform better.
Is this ever addressed? Average Parochial school teachers are paid far less than public school counterparts, with fewer resources at their disposal, and are not always required the same certifications as their public school counterparts. Yet, somehow, they are the "privileged standard," no questions asked.
It isn't. And that is because this film fails to address -- in any way, shape, or form -- that discipline and standards for the students are expected to be met. Otherwise there are consequences.
In the Public system, students are not subject to the same level of discipline. Why? Lawsuits. Racial/identity politics. Numbers and statistical games (for Federal and State dollars). A drop out is not the same as an expulsion; how many under-performing/poorly disciplined kids in the Public system are expelled? A daresay that statistic (disciplinary) would be minuscule compared to a drop-out (voluntary). Too many kids "voluntarily" dropping out? The system is broken! Throw money at it! Blame the educator! Blame the suburbs! Blame race! Blame gender! Yet if poor kids are dismissed/expelled, then you get the same arguments but ramped up to infinity.
The one girl in this movie who went to Parochial school? Her mom didn't send her there because of "creative, engaged" educators that could teach her (black, inner city) child through the wonders of (in my mind, condescending) rap lyrics and song. I doubt she sent her there because of a devout, Catholic faith. She sent her there because of a disciplined environment that creates competition and is unafraid to deliver -- and follow through -- on necessary consequences.
"Superman" misses this point entirely. But it's happy to extoll the virtues of "Parochial-lite" -- Charter/Preparatory Schools. Schools -- again -- with standards, dress codes, competitive environments, and disciplinary actions. Winning that "Golden Ticket" through the lottery doesn't mean you're going to inherit the Chocolate Factory, because -- like their private/parochial school cousins -- they'll boot your butt fast and hard if you do not meet their standards. But "Superman" isn't interested in discussing that. It's somehow unjust that every student can't be in any school they like which would create -- well? -- public schools, I guess? It never admits some kids need. to. be. told. they. failed.
It's interested in saying "bad teachers make bad students." End of story. It speaks nothing of the social environment, the legal repercussions, or the race-games infecting the dialogue and outcome. Worst of all, it even attacks "tracking" which is probably the one silver line in these clouds, especially in urban high school education.
"Tracking" is essentially the difference between a generic/honors/AP coursework program. Taking electives like a language over "health." Or maybe an IB program. In a large, urban school, tracking is essential; those against it are the "equality"/race-to-the-bottom types. What's worse is that "Superman" essentially warrants that you're "tracked" without any say in the matter, which is the European system -- not the American one. ANY student can ask for an "honors" course over a generic one; it is not set in stone. But "Superman" makes its viewers think that it's etched into your permanent record.
Though a small segment, it was my biggest gripe with the film.
Why three stars, if I'm complaining so much? The kids make up for the film through a bit of personalized human-interest drama, but the only compelling one was Daisy, the young Latino girl. I was kind of crushed that she didn't make it into her charter school. But the problem there is that all of their stories (except the white, upper-middle class girl) were told through their parents.
It's kind of weird to see Michelle Rhee talking about how the "system" is all about the adults, not the kids, and we're supposed to sympathize with that while having the filmmaker focus almost exclusively on the parents/relatives, and not their children.
It also could have been more introspective by focusing on some middle school/high school kids. Aside from the aforementioned well-off white girl (coincidence? hardly.) it doesn't have anyone in middle-or-high school. All of the other kids (minority) are elementary school age.
And thus, the film cowers behind the same curtain as the perpetrators and enables of failing public schools: not addressing the omni-presence of race/identity politics, not addressing a complete lack of discipline, and not even acknowledging this caustic mix of the two.
Like the politicians and bureaucrats it comfortably lambastes, "Superman" never addresses these realities, and instead just points the fingers at "teachers! bureaucracy! a lack of efficiency!" while positing "every kid can be excellent if the teachers just try harder!"
Nah. That ain't it.
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