Were it in my power, I’d require every American adult to spend the one hour 42 minutes needed to watch the documentary “Waiting for Superman“; then I’d assign them to a working group with ten of their peers of differing points of view, with the assignment to dialog at length about what they’ve just witnessed and then try to come to consensus on how to remedy the problem.
Such is not in my power, and in contemporary society people don’t much like to dialogue with people who might disagree with their view, so my idea is just a fantasy. But it would be nice…
My entire life has been in and around public education. I grew up in a family where both parents were public school teachers; I went to a great, tiny, teacher’s college; I taught junior high kids for nine years; I represented public school teachers in one of those “teacher’s unions” for 27 years; in retirement, I’m still engaged, with children and grandchildren still hanging around public education as employee or student. I know something about the topic.
Still, when I was waiting for show time at the Uptown Theatre in Minneapolis yesterday, I almost passed on going into the theatre, almost opting to sit on the bench outside and watch the world go by on Hennepin Avenue. It was a beautiful day, too nice to waste on a movie that I had heard emphasized bashing public schools and teachers unions. Life is too short.
I’m glad, though, that I went in.
There was much to learn beyond the reviews.
There was a surprisingly large crowd in the theater for the 1:30 showing of “Waiting for Superman.” This was not a film to allow distractions. We were a quiet and by all indications attentive bunch. When we filed out at the end of the showing, there seemed to be a pretty general reflective silence:
“What does this all mean, and what do we have to do?“
Yes, unions, including mine, were bashed, and I thought the movie overreached. But this film has villains in abundance, including our supposedly great society. What had me in tears for the last few minutes of the movie is what our society has created and nurtured particularly in the last forty years in this country, and then blamed on some “other” (take your pick).
Go ahead, eliminate the teachers unions and take a shot at the “bad” teachers…but don’t think that will solve the problem. There’s a great plenty of other culprits, including some of those who seem to have been anointed as saviors in the film. Take a look, for instance, at the 100,000 or so local superintendents and school board members running America’s 14,000 or so school districts, and the abundant opportunities for dysfunction and malfunction. Or the politicians who play politics with the very large target that is presented by perhaps 45-50 million school age children and the people employed to work with these children in public schools. Or the citizens who pay zero attention to who they elect to make or implement local, state and national education policy (see end note four).
We’ve all created the disaster that made the film possible. We need to do a whole lot more than just talk about it, and find scapegoats.
But I’m not looking for miracles. Finding solutions takes work and compromise. Who wants to work…or compromise?
Please. Do. It’s our kids’ futures.
End note: I was curious about the title, “Waiting for Superman”. The answer comes at the end of the film. You need to see it for yourself.
End note two: I’d invite readers to visit the website of my friend, retired educator and writer Marion Brady, to see his ideas about solutions and reform of public education. Marion takes this issue seriously.
End note three: Here’s what I wrote about the topic of community and school four years ago. This writing is within a website I created eight years ago, specifically to convey ideas to public educators about better connecting with we folks “outside the walls.”
End note four: I live in a community which would be considered suburban and affluent. In the school board election one year ago, with four openings, the top vote getter among the ten competitors, was elected by 3 percent (1 of 33) eligible voters in the district. The total turnout was less than 10 percent of those eligible. Nine out of ten residents didn’t even care enough to vote. And our district has a large student population. It is a disgrace.