Waiting for Superman Reviews
Waiting For Superman is something of a documentary that I believe should be required viewing in schools because it points out why we are failing, why no one is graduating, why are just terrible. Davis Guggenheim does an expert job keeping your attention threw out the entire one hundred minutes as he goes into great detail of America's education history, the impact our schools are having on families, and the probably outcome if things never change. A documentary is suppose to enlighten one on a topic, and this documentary does more than enlighten: it gets you angry. Angry at the school board, angry at the people in charge, and sparks a feeling of change that needs to happen.
Being in one of the best public school systems in America, I thankfully did not have to deal with most of the problems that are expressed in this documentary. However, I do have friends that go to the worst out of the worst here and from what they have said and viewed, this documentary is the best at just flat out showing all that is wrong.
But what got to me most was the economic side of this problem. There is a segment in which we are shown how much money is actually spent on Education. Schools and knowledge is considered one of the main topics for the American government to improve. Yet, we are so poorly funded in education due to all of the money being spent on prisons, detention centers, and any other little problem that is little in comparison. The main problem we have is with low employment and while the shortage of money is a key factor, an even larger factor is the low rate of children that actually graduate and strive for something better. This documentary proves that the only way for things to get better is if we make education better, keep children and teenagers in school, and have them trained and inspired to continue on to do great things.
Another point which I found interesting is also a major problem that I have with schools: terrible teachers that keep their jobs and where a good chunk of the money goes to. In this documentary, you learn that it is next to impossible to get rid of teachers due to some clause in their job description which confirms their employment for life. What. The. Crap? Okay, so, let us say that you get a teacher that is as terrible as the one I mentioned earlier. If I had it my way, I would make damn sure that I get a teacher that CAN teach in his position and have him get a job else where. But, in reality, unless the teacher decides on himself, he/ she can not get fired. The other part is where money goes to now a days. Answer me this, and be honest: how many kids will really get a job on any sports team? Not many. How many kids might make a job out of a fine art like music, drama, and language? Quite a lot. And yet, the money (a good chunk (too good of a chunk)) goes right into sports programs that just burn the money, waste time and energy, and provides nothing. What? Just because you win a few games all of a sudden makes a school great? Is that what our schools really have turned into? A show of beating each other and calling that school great?
Already I am getting worked up over the issues that this documentary has risen, and I have only talked about a fraction of what this entire example of documentation has shown. Waiting For Superman is easily one of the few important documentaries to have been released as of recent and for good reason. This will get you angry, it will make you think, and it will make you question what is happening with our children and the future generation's education.
This is possibly one of the most powerful, important and interesting documentaries I have ever seen and ever made. The truth about it all is that education is the key, without it our children are more likely to end up in jail than to graduate high school. Everyone in the USA including people who live in different countries who care about there kids enough should watch this magnificent documentary.
Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim reminds us that education "statistics" have names: Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily, whose stories make up the engrossing foundation of WAITING FOR SUPERMAN. As he follows a handful of promising kids through a system that inhibits, rather than encourages, academic growth, Guggenheim undertakes an exhaustive review of public education, surveying "drop-out factories" and "academic sinkholes," methodically dissecting the system and its seemingly intractable problems.
This is a really good documentary, its got all we need in one, an interesting topic, a strong overview of the topic, but at the same time it is able to get to our emotions, change the way we think.
This documentary targets something anyone could take on, 'education', but it does in a way that is so simplistic but at the same time very informative, and is still able to entertain us. Personally I went through a variety of emotions while watching it, and thats what determines a good movie, and to be getting that from a documentary and gaining new knowledge is just the feather on the hat.
Highly Recommend it, for anyone who has a heart and a will to know whats going on in the world of education, and at the same time want some entertainment.
Geoffrey Canada: "I cried when she told me superman didn't exist"
You'd have to have a heart of stone not to feel such powerful pangs of emotion by the film's devastating conclusion. Guggenheim frames the overall demise of public education by telling the small story of five hopeful students who must look to the simple luck of the draw to get a quality education in their neighborhood; the bigger issue now has a face to empathize with. And you will. Obviously the odds are stacked against all five kids Guggenheim selected to follow. I think the best charter school lottery odds had 20 seats available and only 65 applicants. It should therefore be no surprise that there are many dashed hopes and crushed dreams, and you too will feel tears rolling down your cheeks as you watch shell-shocked parents try to compose themselves as their child's number is never called. It's flat-out devastating to witness. It is a profound embarrassment that these families are forced into a lottery system just to earn a quality education. The anguish and bone-shaking disappointment will long linger, which is exactly what Guggenheim wants. The concluding portion of the movie drops all stats and cogent rhetoric and just opens up completely to unashamed, yet highly effective, emotional appeals. Guggenheim clearly knew that the odds were against these kids being selected, which upon reflection, gives the montage of sorrow a slightly unpleasant exploitative aftertaste.
I wasn't expecting a detailed manual on how to fix the nation's educational woes, but at the same time I think Guggenheim is laying the blame a little too explicitly at the feet of intractable teacher unions. Now, full disclosure to my adoring readership: I work for a public school system and belong to a prominent teacher's union, the National Education Association. I'm trying to be as impartial as possible in my analysis of a documentary that hits fairly close to home. It's pretty impossible to not walk away affected from Waiting for Superman. You'll be left shaken, red-eyed, and clamoring for reform, but what reform? Guggenheim tends to keep whacking at his target, the teachers unions, but a grave omission is that he never interviews a SINGLE teacher. He interviews retired teachers and numerous teachers that have become administrators, but a documentary about the concerns of a modern classroom might want to include the views of those teachers who are expected to get consistent results with inconsistent materials. There is enormous pressure on teachers, often the first to be blamed for circumstances beyond their control. Are teachers responsible for poverty and absent parenting? Are teachers responsible to fix all society's ills? The modern educational environment has changed so much in recent years (I cannot even think of a life teaching before the distraction of texting and cell phones), and yet so much of our system is geared toward an outdated model. Tracking systems do more to segregate students into an educational caste system that tells a portion of students that nobody truly has high expectations for them. The summer recess was so that the kids could return to work on the farm in time for harvests. Hey, guess what, we stopped being an agrarian society for over 100 years.
Educational reforms like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are mentioned, but the aftereffects are shockingly soft-pedaled by Guggenheim. The NCLB act was meant to make educators accountable, and in a way it does, but only to a single high-stakes test. The curriculum of many school environments is now entirely shaped to passing this test, which isn't a surprise considering school funds are determined almost entirely by this single measuring device. There's little room for enrichment when the test dictates all. I have spoken with several teachers and administrator, and I've heard horror stories where lower-performing students are tossed around in devious manners to keep the school's percentage higher. The shame of NCLB is that its legacy may be that even more children are left behind. I'm flabbergasted that Guggenheim neglects to include any of the detrimental consequences of NCLB in his film. Now I'm by no means saying that teachers should not be held accountable and that unions can lead to abuses of power. Guggenheim references the infamous "rubber rooms" where disciplined teachers sit and collect full paychecks while reading the newspaper or playing cards. On the surface, naturally this excess is appalling and a waste of taxpayer dollars. But then if you stop and think, looking through the indignant broad strokes, you realize several of these rubber room inhabitants are simply getting the full measure of due process. Excess may be needed to ensure the rights of every citizen. Or do we start selectively choosing who is denied due process?
At the risk of sounding too ideologically defensive, allow me to lastly take aim with Guggenheim's thesis that he carefully shapes. Charter schools become Guggenheim's shining beacon of hope for his handful of student subjects. The film itself evasively admits that only 1 in 5 charter schools succeeds and that most perform at levels below public schools. I'm not knocking the success of charter schools and the dedicated professionals who operate them. It's just another choice, and I suppose that's what Guggenheim really boils it down to - choice. He shows us that lower income Americans are denied educational choices, which leads to a limited array of choices of opportunities in a lifetime. Charter schools are free from the Byzantine bureaucracy of the public school system, which I think is why Guggenheim lionizes them despite the 20% success rate. Waiting for Superman shows that the status quo is anything but for too many.
With all of my rebuttals, it may sound like I strongly disliked this muckraking documentary. On the contrary. Waiting for Superman is supremely engrossing, stirring, moving, devastating, illuminating, occasionally frustrating, but easily one of the best films of 2010. Most of the ills of the United States can be traced back to the epicenter of educational failure. The state of America's education is in crisis. Just like Guggenheim's Oscar-winning Inconvenient Truth, this is meant to sound the alarm of an impending disaster. If the educational system keeps failing students en masse, you can expect there will be far-flung generational ramifications. How can the richest country in the world fall behind so far in education? Guggenheim is passionate about a problem with no clear-cut solution. Nobody knows what makes a good teacher. There is no secret formula. And just as each child is a unique and different, so are the educational situations nationwide. Every school is going to have a different solution than another. Guggenheim has a handful of ideas on how to patch up our schools (take away the excessive power of unions, make it easier to fire poor teachers, better access to alternative schools), but the ugly truth is that there is no magic solution. Simplistic at times and perhaps a little too evasive, Waiting for Superman is nonetheless a powerful document that challenges a nation to do better.
Nate's Grade: A-
Davis: You think kids are getting a crappy education?
Michelle Rhee: Oh I don't think they are, I know they are.
It generally takes a lot for me to recommend a documentary on better terms than whether it was good or bad, or if it's strong enough to catch in cinemas. Some, in recent time, have naturally led me to strong recommendations, like King of Kong or Murderball, which are very well made, but also edited to have a fairly linear plot line, despite being a doc. For docs such as this one, where the film has a lot of strong things to say about its subject matter, but also functions like a lecture or an info-dump, it can be harder to strongly get behind. However, for this particular film, I would say that the subject matter is important enough and made well enough to go check out much sooner rather than later.
Waiting for Superman is a documentary about the state of America's public school system. The film follows a handful of young kids at various academic levels, ages, and financial standings, as they are put into a required lottery in an attempt to gain one of the few spots in various schools that would lead these kids to having a better education, therefore, getting a better chance at life. The film also provides us with plenty of information regarding the public school system, various charts and figures about the nations standing in the world, and averages regarding different states and neighborhoods. There are also a number of interviews with varying influential educators, including social activist Geoffrey Canada and former Washington D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee.
The film was directed by Davis Guggenheim, who previously directed Al Gore's global warming doc, An Inconvenient Truth. It is also inconvenient that despite being essentially the last superpower in the world, that our educational system is, as many say in this film, "broken." While I was fortunate enough to be from an area where the system is frankly just not as bad as some of the places portrayed in this film, the film still effectively portrays its facts.
As I said, there is not so much as through line in terms of having an A to B plot, besides introducing the kids and seeing if they make it into the nicer schools by the end, but the various segments in between are all very interesting. I was especially interested in the Michelle Rhee segments for example. She had the task of trying to really shake up the system, by removing tenure from teachers in order to get rid of the ones everyone knew were ineffective, but met almost no support for trying to do so. It is a series of segments like these that had me very intrigued.
Guggenheim narrates the film, which, in some docs can be distracting, but he has the right kind of tone that never makes it feel intrusive. Add to that his good use of animated graphs, stats, and charts, along with some well juxtaposed imagery throughout, and the film is quite solidly made.
You always have to take documentaries as they come, since they really are from an individual's perspective, but everything has been presented well here. The facts are interesting to follow and for a doc that focuses on telling its audience a lot of info, it is quite engaging.
Geoffrey Canada: When you see a great teacher, you are seeing a work of art.
I don?t feel Waiting for Superman took a hard stance on the ?right? answer here, but it might not have explored enough of what?s going wrong in many aspects of education. Sure, Guggenheim effectively portrays the seeming mismanagement of public schools and its resources, the impossible beauraucratic and political spiderweb that are teachers? unions and their impact on education, and the trickle-down effect on each new generation and America?s standing in the world in educated workforces and innovation where it benefits economies. Some schools even seem to work incredibly well ? usually charter schools ? and the film mined all the positivity it could from what these exceptions to the rule are accomplishing with graduation and college attendance rates. For me, it was a lot of the right information for the uninformed viewer, and smartly structured, replete with your usual array of interviews with students, parents, rockstar teachers, token reformers speaking to the impenetrability of the system, and so on. But, I did feel the complete picture was still missing.
I wanted to know more about the schools that attempt a new solution but fail, and why. I wanted more about the (social) neighborhood implications from the failed non-graduates being produced by their local ?dropout factory? schools. Still, the film found a strong enough balance without this ? despite taking a moment too long to lay down its thesis and maybe having a too-hokey title ? and really drove home both the educational message and the entertainment factor of the film with its several anecdotes in the guise of inner-city kids in struggling schools from around the country. Because there exists a lottery for students to enter into these public charter schools with limited space, we watch helplessly as the focal young kids ? whom we have every reason to root for ? have the fate of the future of their education left to cruel chance. The outcome serves as an affecting memorandum speaking to the disease in the system that needs curing. The ?Only you can make a difference!? credits ring a little forced right after showing just how long some of the odds really are, but it?s excusable since the film concludes with such personal power?and with a stronger lingering aftertaste than Guggenheim?s previous film, An Inconvenient Truth. Plus, it wasn?t all Al Gore?d up with a slideshow.
Although many of the stories presented here are heartbreaking, the strongest emotion watching this film is one of anger - - - anger at the Teacher's Unions for clinging to their tenures instead of being open to solutions which would benefit what should be their main priority, the students --- anger at a system so damaged that fates are literally decided by random lottery ball drawings --- and anger at a culture so steeped in bigotry and materialism that it cannot make education one of the most pressing issues. Having served in a teaching capacity for 14 years of my life, and having been blessed with wonderful teachers at my public school in Ohio, I consider myself lucky to have such high regard for education. Seeing this film almost makes me want to put my hat in the ring again and teach. A good film about a really important subject.