Waiting for Superman

Waiting for Superman

***

Michael Moore has ushered in the golden age of the muckraking documentary film.

Interestingly, no one has made a major documentary about our country’s ineffective, inefficient public education system until now. Perhaps that is because the situation can’t be blamed on politicians and big corporations, the root of every problem according to people like Michael Moore.

“Waiting for Superman” is a surprisingly honest, appropriately depressing film about why our public school system delivers mediocre education for an outrageously high price.

To his credit, director Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) pulls no punches when it comes to blaming teachers unions first and foremost.

Union rules not only make it impossible to fire a bad teacher, they make it impossible to adequately reward a good teacher. This awful system absolutely ensures that the teacher workforce is less competent than it could be and less motivated than it should be.

This is why private schools are consistently able to provide better education for less money; they don’t have to deal with the unions.

I disagree with Guggenheim’s argument that federalism and lack of standardization is part of the problem.

During the past few decades, standardized curriculum and testing has become a major part of the experience of most American school children. This is a terrible trend.

I understand the appeal of mandating that every American student be exposed to certain vital information. But standardization is a disaster for good teachers and their students.

Transforming teenagers into educated adults is not really the job of a high school teacher. Anyone who has the expectation that an 18 year old is going to graduate as a truly educated person is either living in a fantasy world or has a more lenient definition of “educated” than I do.

The greatest gift that a teacher can give her students is to instill a passion for learning. Mandating a uniform lesson plan robs a teacher of her ability to inspire.

When a teacher is not completely knowledgeable about the lesson she is presenting and not all that excited to teach it, her students will notice. And the notion that learning is boring and lame will be solidified.

If a history teacher is an absolute expert about Reformation Europe and finds it fascinating, she should be allowed to spend half the year teaching about nothing but Martin Luther and John Calvin and Henry VIII and Thomas More. The passion and the fun that the teacher has will be evident and will rub off on some of the kids.

Ultimately, “Waiting for Superman” spends too much screen time telling the stories of individual children who are being wronged by the current education system. This makes the movie longer than necessary.

It also prevents Guggenheim from placing the proper amount of responsibility on the shoulders of America’s parents. If parents raise their child to view a high school diploma is a necessity of life rather than a choice, no amount of bad teachers will make that child drop out.

I don’t agree with everything “Waiting for Superman” has to say, but it made me think about an important topic. And that’s what a good documentary is all about.

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