Commentary on “Waiting for Superman”; a Look at the Tortured Path Toward School Choice in New York City

Tom Friedman

Canada’s point is that the only way to fix our schools is not with a Superman or a super-theory. No, it’s with supermen and superwomen pushing super-hard to assemble what we know works: better-trained teachers working with the best methods under the best principals supported by more involved parents.
“One of the saddest days of my life was when my mother told me Superman did not exist,” Canada says in the film. “I read comic books and I just loved ’em …’cause even in the depths of the ghetto you just thought, ‘He’s coming, I just don’t know when, because he always shows up and he saves all the good people.’ ”
Then when he was in fourth or fifth grade, he asked, “Ma, do you think Superman is actually [real]?” She told him the truth: ” ‘Superman is not real.’ I was like: ‘He’s not? What do you mean he’s not?’ ‘No, he’s not real.’ And she thought I was crying because it’s like Santa Claus is not real. And I was crying because there was no one … coming with enough power to save us.”
Waiting for Superman” follows five kids and their parents who aspire to obtain a decent public education but have to enter a bingo-like lottery to get into a good charter school, because their home schools are miserable failures.
Guggenheim kicks off the film explaining that he was all for sending kids to their local public schools until “it was time to choose a school for my own children, and then reality set in. My feelings about public education didn’t matter as much as my fear of sending them to a failing school. And so every morning, betraying the ideals I thought I lived by, I drive past three public schools as I take my kids to a private school. But I’m lucky. I have a choice. Other families pin their hopes to a bouncing ball, a hand pulling a card from a box or a computer that generates numbers in random sequence. Because when there’s a great public school there aren’t enough spaces, and so we do what’s fair. We place our children and their future in the hands of luck.”
It is intolerable that in America today a bouncing bingo ball should determine a kid’s educational future, especially when there are plenty of schools that work and even more that are getting better. This movie is about the people trying to change that. The film’s core thesis is that for too long our public school system was built to serve adults, not kids. For too long we underpaid and undervalued our teachers and compensated them instead by giving them union perks. Over decades, though, those perks accumulated to prevent reform in too many districts. The best ones are now reforming, and the worst are facing challenges from charters.

Every parent and taxpayer should see this film.

One thought on “Commentary on “Waiting for Superman”; a Look at the Tortured Path Toward School Choice in New York City”

  1. I was able to see the screening of “Waiting for Superman” this summer and agree with Tom Friedham of the New York Times that everyone should see this movie. It seems with so many great teachers in our school system, how is it that so many students are still not meeting their fullest potential and so many students are failing. Tom Friedham emphasizes that point saying that teachers cannot do this alone, we need to challenge “… all the adults who run our schools – teachers, union leaders, principals, parents, school boards, charter-founders, politicians – with one question: Are you putting kids and their education first?”
    I have witnessed first hand the dedication of so many people wanting to provide the best for our students, but everyone needs to play their part. Recently, I had the privilege of joining educators on a four day Environmental Project Based Learning Institute. The trip was a great experience because these teachers wanted to be there to learn what other schools have accomplished with their students and bring these ideas back to their own classroom. The Institute was run by Environmental Project Based Learning Charter Schools in Wisconsin (Wildlands in Augusta, Fox River Academy in Appleton and River Crossing in Portage). However, the teachers that attended are not all teaching in charter schools. This is a primary goal of charter schools. Charter schools focus on the areas of critical thinking, creativity, and innovation, and serve as a “testing ground” for new curriculums and teacher methods. These methods are modified and developed into successful models that are then rolled out to non-charter public schools. Charter schools that are successful should be replicated and the successful ideas should be transferred to all the schools.
    So if you have a chance, try to see this movie in October. It’s not a movie about charter schools, but a movie that looks at education as a whole. If you would like to learn more about the Environmental Project Based Learning Institute that took place, you can read it on the blog

Comments are closed.