I went with a big group of teachers to see this documentary about our broken education system and I’m really glad that I did. We talked about the new documentary from Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) afterward for about 45 minutes. Apparently, in short, it’s a very simplistic view of education from someone who doesn’t really understand it. He lays out points that he thinks are key problems or villains in the system and some of those things the teachers agreed with but overall they were very opposed and sometimes offended. The painting of Unions as the devil and the key problem in education is dangerous. Unions are an issue and the problem in some areas, but they also do a lot of good. One of the teachers was accused of being a racist last year by a student’s parents because she was failing. If the Union didn’t step in and defend her, she would’ve had to pay her legal fees by herself and probably would’ve lost her job. Many of the teachers agreed that tenure is not helpful and leads to poor teaching in some, however they all said that it’s one of the only incentives to go into teaching. It’s certainly not for the pay and they would be willing to get rid of the tenure if the pay was what they deserved (and comparable to almost all other professions that require that level of education and training.) Also many teachers in the theater (not just my group) scoffed at the line in the film about reaching tenure. “All you have to do is breath for 3 years," is said by a Harlem education reformer named Geoffrey Canada. Maybe getting tenure was easy when Mr. Canada was younger but not now. Especially since, such as California, those teachers spend the first to seven years of their career not knowing if they’ll be cut due to budgets each year. They all agreed there is a problem, but Guggenheim's “solution” seemed to be Charter Schools. Well, that’s great but unrealistic. The reason why Charter Schools do so well (in some cases) is for such reasons as smaller class size, being able to evict poorly performing students and, in one of the stars of the film, Andre’s case, the school has the kids for 24 hours-a-day and control everything about them. The film also made it seem that going to a public school was the same as being sentenced to a life of doom. We took a quick poll with the group that was around us of how many went to public schools and about 95% of us did. We turned out okay. Is it because we worked hard? The film operates on the assumption that every child and their parents are like the ones featured in the film. They all are doe-eyed and eager to learn with concerned and active parents standing behind them. That’s the minority of kids. The film didn’t touch on the fact that most American students simply don’t WANT to work hard to achieve goals or gain an education. That was a common theme with all the teachers there. Solving each kid’s desire to learn like a Rubix Cube is a great idea on paper, but not when you have 50 kids per classroom and already have over-worked teachers that put in 10-12 hour days anyway. The ending of the film is moving and there’s no denying that. You would have to be a husk to not tear up by the final act of the film. Guggenheim seems to care about the problem but is getting advice from the wrong people. The movie almost teeters on dangerous though. We have commercials playing on our station now of Meg Whitman encouraging people to see the film. It’s scary to think that she could be Governor of this state and go forward thinking that that film is an accurate representation of how to fix the education problems. I could only hope that everyone else that sees it doesn't feel that way too.
Waiting for Superman (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: C+
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