Waiting for Superman
By Mari McGrath · August 30, 2010
There’s a new movie coming out called Waiting for Superman and it makes me terribly nervous. It’s a documentary centered around our failing education system brought to us by the director of An Inconvenient Truth. I have quite a few friends who became educators and I have a parent who is a teacher, so I feel fairly knowledgeable about the inner workings of the system. Now, the movie doesn’t come out until September 24th, so I hate to pre-judge, but I can’t see it treating teachers fairly. Media produced about our education system tends to do one thing: demonize teachers. No parent, no government, and certainly no student is to blame when it comes to falling test scores or discipline problems. The phrase “education is failing our students” becomes a war cry for those looking for change.
But, we need to consider the system as a whole, and not just a part. Certainly there are dysfunctional teachers out there. And in our continuous cutbacks towards funding these careers, we’ve devalued the position more than ever. Teachers no longer go to four year colleges where they learn techniques to become teachers. They fall into it after leaving a banking career or when their communications degree doesn’t get them the advertising position they were hoping for. We don’t train our teachers like we used to.
However, we have to look at the countries we are comparing ourselves to. The comparison is always made, first, to China. In China, only the top students even go to college. You’re told what you’re good at and are trained accordingly. We can be just as good as the Chinese. We just have to give up some of our free will to do it. We also have to deny college educations to the majority of our population. The way the Chinese view it, college isn’t for everyone. They educate those who show the most promise and find alternative life options for those who aren’t educationally inclined. We, on the other hand, create Phoenix University for those who can’t handle a real university setting.
So, maybe we don’t want to be China. Maybe we want to be the Netherlands! In the Netherlands, the culture is very insular and values are more consistent. Their schools don’t have classrooms where half of the students speak a different language. Their parents value education, and help their children from an early age. Learning is a value there.
Here, we value education like we do everything else; in word only. We say that education is the key, but we don’t help our college graduates find work. We stress the importance of children getting the best education possible, but we pay the providers of that education less and less, while expecting greater results. We threaten job security and pay stability based on the performance of children who come home to YouTube and Playstations instead of books and homework. We’ve stripped the innovation out of the education system and tied the hands of educators to provide insight and teach the skills children actually need to succeed.
I’ll be interested to see if Waiting for Superman provides solutions for our problems beyond increased testing and better training for teachers. I’m proud to say that I had an incredible public education where I learned about thematic elements and foreshadowing. If the trailer is any indication, I don’t think I’ll hold my breath.