Waiting for "Superman"

Waiting for "Superman" ★½

I am far from an unbiased viewer of documentaries advocating for the charter school system. I went to a large, diverse public high school plagued with scandals. (We went through seven principals in the four years I attended.) My family is also full of public school district employees, so I got even more dirt on the goings-on in the district than your average kid. My parents would never have dreamed of putting my brother or I in a private or charter school because they believe public education will only improve if all classes put their kids through public schools. Even problematic public schools.

But I am not immune to the anecdotes of families looking to give their kids a better education than they might have had. I thoroughly enjoyed Madeline Sackler's The Lottery even though I didn't agree with its stance on charter schools because the children's narratives were so compelling. I wept during that film even as I recognized it as propaganda. The families didn't grab me in the same way in Waiting for 'Superman'. The film's best asset is the charismatic founder of the Harlem Children's Zone, Geoffery Canada. But his Superman metaphore doesn't work nearly as well as the film thinks it does.

The film's thesis that the teacher's union and tenure entirely to blame for the education problems in the US is preposterous. "It should be simple, but they like to make it complicated," the film accuses, as a cartoon teacher pours words into student's heads like batter. This film is surprisingly low on statistics besides the ones about how badly US students are doing on tests, with no mention that those tests might be part of the problem. It's also missing key information: During a segment about how even schools in upper middle class neighborhoods like Redwood City, CA are failing kids, the documentary fails to mention Reagan's Proposition 9, which stipulated that California schools could not be funded by real estate tax.

The most glaring omission to every charter school documentary I've seen is that they overlook all the poor kids whose parents don't know to enter them in charter school lotteries. Those are the kids who will be hurt most if charter schools become the norm. 1 1/2 out of 5 stars.

After I finished the movie, I found that a family friend and former teacher of mine had written an excellent breakdown of its problems. If you're interested, check it out: tinyurl.com/ya5pvr3q