Who Can Save The U.S. Educational System?
By. T.T. Stern-Enzi
Education recently topped the national news spotlight thanks, in part, to the resignation of Washington, DC Education Chancellor Michelle Rhee, the controversial figure, appointed by Mayor Adrian Fenty at the start of his term, to overhaul a failing system and possibly serve as an example for states and districts across the nation to follow. She came in with little experience as a classroom teacher and no connection to the school bureaucratic order – never a principal or a district administrator – and she preceded to cut administrative staff and fire principals and teachers with what some saw as unabashed zeal. She wanted to overturn the tenure status conferred on teachers in favor of a merit-based approach that linked teacher bonuses with student achievement.
But was she a hero or a villain?
And what about the schools themselves? Public schools suffer from coast to coast. Many are in depressed neighborhoods that spark the philosophical chicken or the egg questions – do bad schools create bad neighborhoods or vice versa? Families take flight, if they are able, from these communities for better ones with more stable public schools or they leave and place their children in private schools. Some transfer their children to charter schools, the new alternative, the new heroes seeking to prop up our failing system. But charter schools, by their nature, are supposed to be open and available to all students, so kids and families are forced to compete or subject themselves to lotteries to secure one of the too-few spots available each year.
In Waiting for ‘Superman,’ Davis Guggenheim, director of the Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, takes a look at this downright bleak situation, and tries to find a hero that will swoop in and save the day. The actual superhero analogy comes from Geoffrey Canada, an education guru who has been featured on Oprah and has become a go-to expert on the subject based on his development model that has created successful charter schools in Harlem. His model reflects an equal understanding and appreciation of efforts to make better students and strengthen their communities.
What becomes obvious though, as the film tracks five kids in California and New York waiting to find out if they are going to be lucky enough to snag an elusive spot in a select school, is that there are no heroes, and maybe there aren’t exactly any villains either. The system does work. That is a reality, but there are people throughout it, teachers, administrators, union officials, politicians, parents, and children, who are struggling against all odds to make the most of a bad situation.
The real heroes and leaders, necessary if a difference is to be made, are… us. It is going to take the effort and support of every single person, looking at the situation, thinking outside the box, dedicating themselves to doing something, anything. The film seeks to challenge us to do just that, to find some way to lend a hand, rather than simply stand by, wringing our hands.
Waiting for ‘Superman’ will be shown exclusively at the Neon Movies