Waiting for 'Superman' (2010) Poster

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Waiting for Superman is simplistic and one-sided
inmatom31 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Waiting for Superman makes teachers the scapegoats for our ongoing educational problems in the U.S. To the lay person, the film is appealing, and seemingly makes a good case that poor teachers are the main reason why so many children are failing. It shows statistics that allegedly illustrate how far behind we are from the rest of the world in education. Again, to the uninformed viewer, it all seems credible. However, as an inner city teacher for 20 years, I can tell you that we are not falling behind most other countries as they would like us to believe. You can't compare Finland, a country of 5 million people, to the U.S. Countries similar to ours are experiencing the same problems we are due to the increasing divorce rate, single parent households, and the lack of respect for teachers and educational institutions. The test scores from other countries, particularly Asian countries, are skewed since they are used as tracking for academic and social class for life. Hence, they go to after school "cramming classes". There is no evidence that they actually learn the material better in the long run, however. For a detailed explanation, please read Tamin Ansary's article "The Myth of America's Failing Schools."

The biggest problem I have with the movie is that it is one-sided. It focuses on the unions allowing poor teachers to continue because of tenure, which I agree is wrong and must be rectified immediately. However, the film gives the viewer the impression that the majority of teachers, particularly in the inner-city are "poor" and are only there to collect a paycheck. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my experience, I estimate that there are 5-10% "poor" teachers on the average in any school, just as there are in any profession. The vast majority (90%) in most schools are dedicated and diligent professionals who do the very best they can with the circumstances they have. Poor teachers are only a very small part of the problem.

Waiting for Superman neglected two important factors that dramatically affect the success of schools and its students: parental involvement and student discipline within the school system. The parents shown in this movie were NOT the typical inner city parents. They were educated, lived in nice, clean, and well maintained apartments, and did homework with their children each night. If all parents were like them, there would be no "failing schools" discussion; this movie would never have been made. These parents were model parents -- definitely the exception and not the rule in the inner-city. Another issue ignored completely is the student discipline. Most inner -city teachers spend much more time on disciplining a few students every day than teaching the rest of the class. Only schools with strong principals and an effective system of discipline in place have a chance at any success in the inner-city. The very best schools remove habitually disruptive students sooner and place them in alternative schools. As long as there are 2-3 habitually disruptive students in a classroom, the time on task will never be that of suburban schools or any successful school. The KIPP school cited in the movie didn't simply just "extend the day" as some assume, they REQUIRED parental support and participation, much like Catholic schools do. The successful charter schools do the same. They cannot be compared to the inner-city schools that have to deal with habitually disruptive students and parents who refuse to provide the basics for their child -- clean clothes, a trip to the public library, a place at home to do their homework, limiting television and computer time, etc..

Incidentally, only the very best parents in the inner city would call the classroom teacher to REQUEST a parent-teacher conference, as shown in this documentary. I found that comical since in my 20 years of teaching not ONE parent has ever REQUESTED a parent conference. It's the other way around -- we have to try to track down parents, go to their homes, and beg them to come to conferences! The parents in this film were proactive in their child's education -- definitely not the norm in the inner city.

Even the very best teacher in the country cannot successfully teach all of his/her students without adequate parental support. Case in point: Jaime Escalante, the inspiration for the movie "Stand and Deliver" (1988), was very successful at teaching inner city students calculus. He did, however, have wonderful parental support. When he moved to Sacramento several years later and taught at risk kids there, he had no such success. Why? He stated that the kids and parents didn't care as much as his kids in East Los Angeles.

Education does NOT occur in a vacuum. The schools, teachers and parents must all work together. Any administrator who simply adopts the defeatist approach and states "parents can't be fixed" and refuses to make them accountable will never have a successful school. And remember this: A bad teacher only lasts 9 months, but a bad parent lasts a lifetime!
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Our System is Broken
David Ferguson3 October 2010
Greetings again from the darkness. The system is broken. I am neither a teacher, Union official or politician ... simply a U.S. citizen who sees a real problem with a public education system that seems to adequately serve very few.

After viewing Davis Guggenheim's documentary, I find it fascinating to read some of the comments made. To my eye, the film does not blame any one group for the problems - though lousy teachers and a misguided union do take some serious criticism. Shouldn't they? The film makes the point that excellent teachers and principals can definitely make a difference. The specific subject families show caring, involved parents and eager to learn children. Of course, not every family or child fits this definition. But shouldn't the system work for the engaged parents and students?

There is no shortage of blame in this game - politicians, unions, teachers, administrators, parents and rowdy kids. Regardless of the situation, it's clear that the overall system is flawed, especially in lower income areas. Do neighborhoods drag the school down or is it vice versa? To me, it doesn't matter. The system should reward the teachers, parents and children who do want to teach and learn.

Regardless of your politics or personal involvement in education, I commend Mr. Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth") and Mr. Gates and Ms. Rhee for rocking the boat ... for getting the questions asked in a public forum. This movie should inspire much debate and discussion - typically the beginning of real improvement and change. Let's hope this is the needed start to finding a better system.
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karmajustice6 October 2010
I may not be a teacher, but both my parents were, and I grew up going to public school and got many views of the educational system as a whole. I'm really surprised to see that some teachers went to this and were actually offended by what it offered.

This movie did not set out to blame the issues of this country's education on the teachers. It depicts the issues with the SYSTEM. It's a system that protects the teachers' needs over the students in some cases. We all are aware that teachers don't get paid very well, but there are many upsides to a career as a teacher, and some go into this field because they are gifted, but just as many aren't.

What this film attempted to say (in my opinion, successfully) is that we must put the child's needs above all. The system is BROKEN, and that's all the director wanted to say. Through the establishment of the abuses of the unions, the communication of the compelling stats, and the following of just a few examples of a larger populace of suffering students and their families, the director did a BEAUTIFUL job of bringing issues to the surface.

Teachers who are talented, work very hard, and are committed to pushing students and not cruising through should not take offense to this film. However, there are plenty of teachers out there who should find this film threatening, just as many departments of education should, because on the whole, American schools are failing, and we have a lot of work to do.

Because there are educators who are threatened by the message of this film, I say that is what makes it a success. What effective documentary doesn't shake up the system and strike fear in those whose system it threatens? I'm ready for more!!!
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If you are concerned about how the US in falling behind in education, see this film!
FilmRap26 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
If you are concerned about the educational system in the United States and how it is falling behind many countries in the world and may be letting down children whom you care about, you will want to see this documentary film. The same day that we saw this movie, Thomas Friedman suggested, in the N.Y. Times, that it raises awareness about problems of our education system as the movie An Inconvenient Truth ( the Al Gore film ) did about the environment. Both films were directed by Davis Guggenheim and produced by Lesley Chilcott, with the latter being a guest speaker at our screening. The storyline pulled no punches as it made the point over and over again that bad teachers must be eliminated from schools and replaced with good ones . The enemy here is depicted as the teacher's unions which oppose evaluation of teachers, merit pay and firing of poor teachers. It is interesting that also the day on which we saw this film, the first round of educational grants to states for Obama's Race to the Top program were announced . The NY Times article also stated that one important requirement for receiving this money were changes in the schools so teacher's performances could be evaluated and subsequent action taken based on this information Examples of successful charter schools, magnet schools and public schools were shown in this film. The efforts of Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C. who is trying to reorganize that school system were highlighted as were interviews with Jeffrey Canada who has set up a successful charter school in New York City in Harlem where he turned around the dropout rate. Canada's childhood disappointment when he learned that there was no real Superman and therefore he thought there was no one to save him from the hardships of his own difficult childhood circumstances, inspired the title of this movie. It was pointed out in the film that so many kids who drop out end up in the prison system where the cost of keeping them there for an average of four years could pay for a full private school education plus money left over for college. We did think that this movie was somewhat redundant , repetitious and longer than it had to be. It also did not touch upon the role of class size in successful education which the producer did feel had been disproved as a factor, although not covered in the movie. It also failed to explain or analyze the qualities that make a good teacher or a bad one although the difference between the two does make all the difference in the world to a child's future. The most poignant, dramatic and heartbreaking part of the film was the close-up view of various lotteries which are held to determine which few students of the many sitting in the auditorium are chosen to be accepted to the schools known to successfully graduate it's students. You can see and feel the disappointment in the children as they realize that they have lost something very special that they dearly wanted. Filmrap.net
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This movie should be mandatory viewing for all Americans
richard-178719 October 2010
Yes, a 10. This movie is spectacular. I can't remember the last time I got so caught up in a documentary.

This movie seeks to do two things, 1) to show how bad bad public education in this country is and to suggest some of the reasons (the two teachers unions, the administrative bureaucracy, etc.); 2) to suggest a solution.

It does 1) in a devastatingly powerful fashion. There are other reasons for the poor quality of some American education that he does not broach, like the stupid training given by mediocre and bad schools of education, low teacher certification standards in some states, the danger of leaving it up to principals to hire teachers when some of them have no interest in or understanding of education, etc. But going into all of that would have made this movie hours and hours long. Still probably very interesting, but impractical as a commercial venture.

2) it does well also, but the viewer needs to sit back afterward and think through exactly what is being proposed as a solution. That solution is a certain sort of education now being offered in certain (not all, by any means) urban charter schools that function free of all the obstacles (bureaucracy, school boards, teachers unions, etc.) that block change in regular public schools. But the students in those charter schools are all there because their parents/guardians made the effort to get them there.

In other words, superlative teaching works with students who have support at home. This is wonderful, but it's not either a surprise or a miracle. It sounds like a magnificent way of educating the children of caring and concerned parents/guardians who can't flee the inner city to the better schools of the suburbs. But it does not address the problem of what is to be done with all the students who are children/wards of individuals who don't give a damn about their education.

That is probably the subject of another film.

This one, meanwhile, is magnificent, from first moment to last. The lottery scenes near the end are perhaps the most enthralling, but it is all very good.

I kid you not. Every American should have to see this movie.

P.S. I notice that there are some scathing reviews of this movie on here. Remember in reading them that WfS pulls no punches: it goes after the AFT and NEA with a vengeance, and those two organizations will no doubt do whatever they can to discredit this movie. Beware anything that comes from them, therefore. Bill Gates has long said that those two organizations are two of the biggest roadblocks to educational reform in this country. This movie documents that, and those unions won't take that lying down.
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personally engaging and sometimes factually slight document on the current state of education
MisterWhiplash15 October 2010
Waiting for Superman does one thing right above all else: it gets a conversation going. Then something else has to matter, which is how much the people who get to talking really know about the education system in America, which has been making students fall behind compared to others throughout the world (i.e. USA ranks 25th among students for math and reading, albeit we're #1 when it comes to confidence! yey we're #1!) David Guggenheim's documentary shifts between personal stories of (mostly) inner-city kids whose parents want their kids to do well but are doubtful for good reason about whether their kids will get the fair chance, and try ultimately to get them into charter-school systems that rely on a lottery system of picking who gets in and who doesn't.

This makes up the emotional core of the picture, and it's a good one. Where things get both interesting and tricky is when Guggenheim gets into the main issue at hand: what's wrong with our countries schools, especially in inner-city/urban ones like in Harlem and DC where there are "Drop-Out Factories" created in part by students in bad neighborhoods but more-so by teachers who just don't give a good-damn about teaching. Guggenheim rails against the teacher union's seemingly monolithic nature when it comes to sacking bad teachers (we learn about the "Lemon Dance" system done with teachers who are tenured who are just bad period). Meanwhile he paints a very rosy picture of the Charter/private schools, and why not? They show how the teachers do give a damn about the students, and the better attention paid - and as we see teaching is a kind of art form that one can master - the better the students.

But doing a little research before or after the film shows that Guggenheim, for all of his good (and they are good) intentions, omits or shallowly covers certain things, such as the Kipp charter schools (it's mentioned only briefly in the doc but 1 out of 5 Charter schools really work best at what they do, and not mentioned is how kids that don't keep up in the first couple of years just get kicked out, period), and about the nature of public school teachers. The call for reform is not unwarranted, and I became saddened by the DC Chancellor's idea of giving double to teachers who don't take tenure being shot down, not even addressed, by the NEA. At the same time that Guggenheim gives some strong attention to the flailing public school/public-school-union system, and to how good though competitive Kipp and schools like it are, little attention is paid to what the urban/inner-city neighborhoods are really like that kids like this are in. I question the statement a person interviewed makes about the school system negatively affecting the neighborhoods more than the other way around. To me it would appear to be a vicious cycle where both sides need reform for true change.

But Waiting for Superman, a film meant to rile up the audience into attention like Guggenheim's previous doc An Inconvenient Truth, is useful as a way to get people who have no idea what's going on what is going on, at least the cliff-notes version of it. It isn't the digging-deepest look at the subject, yet I did feel moved by how the people trying to get by with their kids are good people wanting the best for their kids. Probably the big irony that Guggenheim does, after giving so much positive hype for how charter schools work (i.e. 96% of students go on to college who attend), is showing the lottery system as the climax, and how very few spots there are in the schools. The doc could go even further with being an activist-style position trying to affect change, or give clearer facts; there's a lot of cute-quirky animation to bring along the information, though the interviewees selected are kind of cherry-picked for its ultimate effect.

It is, in short, a good documentary but not quite a great one, and will be a big upper or a big downer depending on who you are in the audience, if you have kids, if you're a teacher, or if you're in the "rubber room" in one of the NYC schools.
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A pathetic piece of propaganda
nickyou13 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
One of the few things Guggenheim got right was that there is something wrong with the system. Unfortunately, Guggenheim pointed his finger at teachers and teacher unions but not at the real problem.

I want to discuss a study before I discuss the real problem. I cannot remember who did the study but I can tell you the major conclusions. The researchers estimated that the performance of a student is affected only 13-17% by the teacher in the classroom. Why? Answer: Students are human and they have human problems that have nothing to do with the teacher.

For instance, many students in low performing schools arrive to school starving. If you think this doesn't matter then I challenge you to go home tonight and fill up your dinner plate like you normally do, then put half of the food back (which will likely still be more than some students get at night), then go to bed (which you might have trouble doing if you still feel a little hungry), then do not eat any breakfast the next day nor compensate by drinking extra coffee. See how well you do at work when you are starving and have likely gotten less than adequate sleep. Then imagine having to do that everyday of your life but on a worst scale since the little food you do get will probably be out of a can.

As you can see, teachers have such little effect on how well their students do because students have human problems that teachers do not have the time, resources, or training to deal with. The hunger some students face is just one of the problems students have and it is actually not as big as some of the other problems students have, such as getting to school alive.

Overall, teachers have such a small effect on student performance but they have been blamed as the one of the few reasons education in the U.S. is so poor. Now you see why teacher unions are valued by teachers. Without those unions, teachers would be fired left and right for something they have little control over.

So, if teachers and teacher unions aren't what is really wrong with the system, what is? The answer is corporations. Guggenheim actually pointed this out by noting how education started declining in the 1970s. However, he chose to point the finger at educators as the reason for this. In reality, the 1970s is also when wages started to stagnate while corporations and the upper crust of America started to absorb all the profits of our hard work.

To see how income equality affects education, let us look at Finland. Guggenheim used Finland as an example of a country with high test scores that we should try to shoot for. What Guggenheim didn't mention is that Finland only tests their students once every five years. Most likely because there is NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER that high test scores equals better education. Anyway, something else Guggenheim didn't mention is that Finland is much more equitable than America.

I don't recall the exact numbers but a study done in the 2000s showed how the income gap in America was in the thousands of percents (I believe 3,400+%)while that in Finland was under 100 (I think 50-60%). So, in Finland, the students are still human but the problems these students have are much more manageable because their parents have the resources needed to manage them. The reason students in Finland have better test scores is that the students in Finland arrive to school having eaten enough, have universal health care, etc.

A more direct example of how corporations are the problem are the standardized tests. Recall that there is no evidence supporting higher scores equating to better education. Instead, what standardized tests show is that you are better at following directions and conforming which means you are better suited for a job in the service industry. This is why corporations, including corporate media like this movie, constantly talk about improving test scores; better scores equals better workers for the service jobs that are quickly becoming the only jobs available to most Americans.

I can go on about the misinformation in this movie since there seemed to be a misleading fact or quote every five seconds. However, I am limited to 1,000 words so I can't go on showing how corporations and income inequality are the real culprits of the poor state of education in this country. Now that you know though, you can look up literature about income inequality to further education yourself. Since I cannot go on about income inequality, I feel I should use the few words I have left to address the most misleading of facts the movie presented; the facts about KIPP schools.

Guggenheim made it seem like KIPP schools dramatically improved test scores but what the move didn't tell you is that KIPP students are in school 62% longer than students in public schools (which means many KIPP students spend more time in school than their parents do in work). Also, KIPP schools only allow students to take electives if they have high grades in their core(tested on standardized tests)classes. Thus, KIPP students spend more than 62% extra time on the subjects tested on. Lastly, just as KIPP schools accept public money without having to follow public rules (Guggenheim points out this means no tenure or teacher unions), another public rule KIPP schools don't have to follow (which Guggenheim conveniently ignored) is that KIPP schools can expel students who are doing poorly. Thus, KIPP schools can artificially increase their test scores by expelling students who will lower the average right before they take the test. Overall, the test score gains don't look particularly impressive when all of the facts are laid bare. Especially when you realize that all KIPP schools don't have impressive test scores (also conveniently left out by Guggenheim).
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I'm still waiting for "Superman". Sadly, this movie isn't worth the save. It was a bit disappointing.
ironhorse_iv30 September 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Waiting for "Superman" is one of those documentaries, I truly wanted to see, when it came out. Now, that I saw the film, I wish, the film could had done better for itself. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad movie. It's just misleading as hell and doesn't cover all the whole educational system of the United States. Directed by Davis Guggenheim, the film analyzes the failures of the American public education system by following several students as they strive to be accepted into a charter school. The movie often follow the teaching of Geoffrey Canada, an educator and activist for school reform, describing how the school system need to be fixed. Throughout the documentary, different aspects of the American public education system are examined. It was very interesting on what they pull out, like how bureaucracy is killing our public education system. I did have to agree with most of what the movie is saying. I agree that firing bad teachers is good, and firing tenure teachers does prove a problem. I'm pretty open to the idea of reforming corrupt unions and reducing overblown bureaucratic institutions. Still, the movie is so- one sided approach, that doesn't balance out. The movie nearly place all the blame for poor student performance on teachers and their unions. The movie act like no other groups are apportioned any responsibility for student performances. Does accountability extend only to teachers, and not to the parents or the student, themselves? Apparently, for Davis Guggenheim, it does. What the movie fails to take account is how much parental involvement, income level, educational level of the parents, the surrounding culture in which the children live, violence, drug addiction and dealing, unemployment, incarceration rates among the parents and relations of the students, sleep, nutrition, etc.. affect how a student does in school. They are not even given much time in the film to explain, or not even acknowledged as factors. The film would have you believe that if we just busted the teachers' unions, then all the "achievement gap" would disappear, all the kids in those tough urban districts would come back to school and complete their high school education and go on to college. This is only wishful thinking and not a solution. Putting all the blame on teachers is wrong. One thing that I really didn't agree with, the movie is how charter schools better than public schools. The movie makes it look like charter schools are the best out there, and the worst thing to happen to a poor family is having to go to a public school. Shockingly, as Stanford's in depth Credo study of charter schools shows, charters school actually underperform public schools. Only 15% outperform traditional schools, while 35% underperform traditional schools. The other 50% is about equal. This is pretty bad. The movie focus on how corrupt the public school, but fail to show how some charter schools could be dishonest as well. Some good examples are overworking teachers by paying them lower cost, being exploitation by for-profit entities, refusing to help special education students, co-location controversial, promoting racial segregation, or the lack of teaching second language learners. Even the film's main man, shouldn't be treated as a saint. Geoffrey Canada has been known to expel an entire class of low-performing children, before test day due to fears that it would throw off his good performance statistics at his own charter schools. Canada also has a lot of board members of wealthy philanthropists with large wallets to fund his schools. With assets of more than $200 million, his organization has no shortage of funds. Saying that public school are overfunded is an understatement when there is clear debate about charter schools being over-funded and underperforming. If all inner-city schools had the same resources as his, maybe they would have the same good results. It doesn't help the film when the statistics statement that the film are saying, are poorly researched. The movie claims for example that Woodside High School, only sends a third of its students to college and only graduates 62 percent of them, but what the film excluded, is the fact that some students went to out-of-state colleges. This means that their graduation rate is more like 92 percent. That's very distortion. Another big example is the statement that the film's claim that "70 percent of eighth-grade students cannot read at grade level,". It's clearly a misrepresentation of data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The film assumes that any student below proficient is "below grade level," but this claim is not supported by the NAEP data nor any major educational program. The film got so bad at researching their data that another film was create in 2011, 'The Inconvenient Truth behind Waiting for Superman' produced by the Grassroots Education Movement to couther what they were saying. One thing, I really wish the movie touch upon was upper education as well. There were little talk about college and university. Other things, they didn't talk about are Magnet schools and home schooling. It didn't even mention how military recruiters could access to 11th and 12th grade students' names, addresses, and telephone listings when requested. The movie has gross over simplification, drastic omission, direct and subtle misdirection and false causation false emphasis that cause this movie a lack of replay value for me. It lacks alternative proposals and solutions like having more dates for schooling by reschedule the school calendar. Another is offering wider range of cheaper but higher education. Last is eliminating Property taxes. All this proposals could had made this documentary even better. Like I said before, the documentary isn't the worst. It's pacing and entertaining value is pretty weak, but overall, it's still a solid film. Still, evaluating school communities solely on test scores leaves a lot to be desired.
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Waiting for Superman*
edwagreen5 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Sorry that my previous review was removed because I told the truth.

The film was terribly distorted as one comes away with the idea that all children are eager learners ready to soak up the knowledge that teachers are trying to impart.

Our urban school centers are in complete disarray because of the complete lack of discipline.

Why aren't Michelle Rhee, Arnie Duncan, Randi Weingarten and other supposed educators in the know teaching? Why? They were expert at getting out of the classroom as soon as possible.

We need parent involvement, but we also need zero tolerance for behavioral infractions. Schools are for learning. A teacher should not have to devote so much time in constantly disciplining students who don't want to learn. Why didn't the film talk about vocational education? Not all children are academically oriented.

Why wasn't class size discussed? Why are so many classes overflowing with students?

Why didn't the film talk about supervisors who are currently supervising teachers in New York City and never taught one day? Could we supervise a brain surgeon?

Please don't try to delete this. I thought we live in a democracy where opposing viewpoints are allowed to be published.
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This stirring documentary sends out shock-waves of injustice
DoveFoundation24 September 2010
This stirring documentary sends out shock-waves of injustice and even a bit of a sense of futility when it explores the state of America's public schools. Interviews with education specialists, school superintendents and even Bill Gates add up to an impressive assembly of informed adults who know what the problem is, but haven't figured out a way to fix it on a large scale.

Washington, D.C. schools superintendent Michelle Rhee says it well when she summarizes the basic problem: "Public schools fail when children's education becomes about the adults." The adults who fail these children are not limited to public officials and government bureaucrats, though; a large portion of the blame is reserved for ineffective teachers and the teachers' unions who ensure that those teachers receive tenure and cannot be removed from schools. The documentary focuses on five public school children who represent inner-city kids with broken families and day-to-day financial struggles (except for a student of middle-class parents in the Silicon Valley). With that one exception, all are enrolled in failing public elementary schools and have little chance of graduating high school if they move on to the assigned secondary schools in their districts. The tear-jerking climax sees each of the kids attending a lottery drawing for limited spaces at public charter schools and rare, effective public schools within or outside of their district. Witnessing the academic chances for these kids being decided by such a random, impersonal process is heart-breaking and calls into question the very nature of American values like "Protestant work ethic," "equality," "freedom" and "the ability to pull oneself up by one's bootstraps" and make the future brighter.

The language is limited to a few expletives. The film deals with a tangled web of adult issues that make a child's education more difficult, which probably puts it outside the spectrum of interest for most kids under age 12. However, when watched with parents, it could create some valuable family discussions on the importance of education and may even activate a family to become advocates for change. We award "Waiting for Superman" the Dove Family-Approved Seal for audiences over age 12 and praise the filmmakers for presenting many teachable moments.
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