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Waiting for “Superman” (2010)

by on 2011/02/18

“Share this film.  Tell everyone you know.”

* * * *

All in all, I loved being a student.  Given unlimited funds and freedom, I reckon I’d probably be one still.

Little surprise then that I’d hoped to be a teacher “when I grow up”.  As if to console the failure of my dream, someone once told me I was better off not realizing it, for the politics would prove intolerable.

After — finally — seeing Waiting for “Superman”, I can’t help but feel a begrudging allowance of the possibility.  Whether you label Davis Guggenheim’s documentary a cautionary tale or a wake-up call, it paints a frustrating view of education today:  wasting tax dollars, ignoring good teachers, supporting the bad ones, and dooming the very students it claims to nurture.

U.S. students currently rank among the lowest in the world’s developed countries, so low that domestic companies often hire international candidates in their stead.  Ironically, the self-confidence of these same students is disproportionately high.  Swaggering all the way, too few graduate high school, and too many turn to crime.

One of the most surprising claims here is the possibility that “bad” neighbourhoods don’t necessarily create unsuccessful schools; in fact, the opposite could be true.  Further, the annual expenditure on a single prison inmate is higher than the cost of fully funding a private school student, all the way through to adulthood.

Who can untangle this mess, as complicated by its solutions as it is by time and conflicting agendas?  Every new change agent makes bold claims, and is rapturously celebrated, at least until they try to make their changes.  These caretakers rarely last more than a single term.  Not many are willing to make the investments or sacrifices necessary to fix a broken system.

The clear targets of Waiting are the unions.  Now so inveterate, affluent, and influential, the unions can’t be moved or changed.  Still, while their political connections make them practically untouchable, they have been circumvented, though rarely.

If this effort offers any hope, it may rest in the work of charter schools, a new half-step between the public and private systems.  Unfortunately, even the charters are imperfect, and their entrance fee is one of improbable fortune.

Somewhat overlong, Waiting for “Superman” is less than entertaining, yet undeniably important.  It’s an exercise in frustration and, by the end, I felt overwhelmed by the weight of damning evidence and wondered:  whither hope?  Guggenheim clearly recognizes salvation won’t swoop down out of the blue.  Does society need to implode before change becomes possible?

The packaging is covered with phrases like “impossible not to be inspired” and “electrifying call to action”.

Not so much.

This piece is both terrifying and depressing.  It’s the new neorealism.  It doesn’t have The Answer, but it does have a message vital to all children, all parents, and anyone who shares a society with them.  So, absolutely, share this film.

Especially with kids.  Because they won’t be learning these lessons in school.

* * * *

Rated G (Canada) / PG (United States)

111 minutes

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  1. Most-Missed Theatrical Films (2010) « Geek vs Goth

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