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Waiting for Superman’s inconvenient truths about education

Two of my favorite bloggers – Fred Wilson and Gotham Gal (aka Joanne Wilson) – already posted today about Davis Guggenheim‘s latest documentary, Waiting for Superman, and, since the film addresses a topic – namely, education – that I was knee-deep in for the longest time, I posted a couple of comments on their sites. (Joanne’s site here; comments on Fred’s site are taking forever to load – presumably because the topic stirred so much interest, comments went through the roof; mine are here and here.) (Davis, incidentally, is, among other things, famous for directing and producing An Inconvenient Truth.)

The Waiting for Superman website includes a compelling trailer – watch it now. (The movie will be released on 9/24 in “select cities” – not sure if it’ll make it to Canada simultaneously.)

Most of all, while you wait for the movie, go read John Heilemann’s article, Schools: The Disaster Movie, in New York Magazine.

“Here’s what I’m scared of: that the movie will be misperceived as a pro-charter, anti-union piece,” he says. “The movie isn’t anti-union; it’s pro-kids. And to be pro-kids, I have to be tough on all of the adults, starting with myself. And the movie’s not pro-charter. It’s just that lotteries happen at a lot of charter schools, and the lottery is the central metaphor in the movie. It’s like, you could have the American Dream—if you win the lottery. The lottery is a metaphor for what we do to our kids.” [emphasis added] (more)

It’s about education, but it’s also about so much more.

It’s about social contracts, and whether or not upward mobility is still an option, and whether or not a healthy middle class still serves as the incubator of fruitful change and innovation.

“The whole point of charters is that you can close the ones that fail,” he says. “I’m all for it! You close them and constantly innovate, and things get better.”

Canada’s mention of innovation gets me thinking about a recent front-page article in the New York Times that reported on the mediocre or dismal performance of many charter schools. To critics, this is proof that the charter movement is a washout, when the data actually demonstrate no such thing—for as any student of technology will tell you, innovation is built on failure. (more)

Bang on. Without failure, no change – and no progress. The trouble, of course, is that no one wants to have their kid in the failing venture …so they stick with the old “tried and true” failures…

Of special interest to me was the description of the political animal that is Randi Weingarten. We’ve seen her type before, in less forceful incarnations she has even shown herself locally. Read the section that precedes the following quote (which explains the mechanics of her political tango), and then think about the politicians you have known… Then ask yourself if you really want these people in charge of educating your young (or running your city)…

What explains Weingarten’s apparent schizophrenia is the balancing act she is forced to pull off by a membership split between moderates and militants. (Asked by Politico, Proust-questionnaire style, to name her favorite body part, she said, “Legs—because I have to walk a tightrope most of the time.”) In her stint at the UFT in New York, she honed a signature style whereby her substantive compromises were coupled with rhetorical ferocity. Now, on a grander stage, she is doing the same thing again, attacking reformers and “Superman,” and even distancing herself from her own achievements, to maintain her authority with her people while at the same time giving herself space to move in the direction of reform. [emphasis added] (more)

Another thing I appreciate about this article – given the relentless Obama-bashing that’s coming from the left and the right – is how it shows that Obama has made progress on education and has put his ass on the line for reform. That’s commendable – given the example of more political creatures (like Weingarten), Obama’s rectitude and integrity are refreshing:

For decades, Democrats at the national level had been a wholly owned subsidiary of the unions. But Obama was booed on the campaign trail for supporting merit pay, and secured his party’s nomination without the support of the AFT, which sided with Hillary Clinton. His [Obama’s] choice of Duncan, who’d run the Chicago public schools with a penchant for consensus between reformers and the unions, to lead the Department of Education was seen as a signal that Obama would seek to chart a middle course.

Yet over the nineteen months of his term, Obama has done nothing of the kind. Rather, he has unfurled an education agenda that has delighted reformers, upset the unions, and in the process delivered more on his promise of transcending partisan divisions in the service of pragmatism than he has on any other issue. (more)

On another front: parents – and adults, generally. I’ve said this before, but a lot of the blame for all the social crap we’re looking at today is the fault of parents (and that means my generation) and other adults:

Fingers will be pointed, and they should be—directly at the adults who have perpetuated the grotesqueries that consign generation after generation of America’s children to failure. (more)

Parents who expect schools to work miracles have a lot to answer for, ditto teachers and admins who are protecting their benefits. The adults, and they are legion, have indeed “perpetuated grotesqueries,” and it makes you wonder what the kids were really learning all along.


  1. […] still mulling over my Wednesday blog post on the state of education, provoked in part by the comments others have left on Fred‘s and Joanne‘s blog posts […]

    Pingback by » Friday odds and ends Yule Heibel's Post Studio © 2003-2010 — September 10, 2010 #

  2. […] is my third post this week on education – first, there was Waiting for Superman’s inconvenient truths about education on Sept. 8, followed by some more impressions on Sept. 10, Friday odds and ends. Today’s post […]

    Pingback by » Follow up on Education and Homeschooling Yule Heibel's Post Studio © 2003-2010 — September 14, 2010 #

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