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Waiting for Superman (2010)

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Score: 8/10

Genre: Documentary Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.

Release Date: October 8th, 2010 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Davis Guggenheim Actors: Geoffrey Canada, Michelle Rhee


avis Guggenheim’s “Waiting for Superman” provides eye-opening and oftentimes utterly shocking information about the crisis in America’s public school system. Wisely, it does so with clever editing, an entertaining presentation, and valuable facts that hammer home the despondency of the situation. By choosing specific children to follow and interviewing passionate teachers, the film allows audiences to make a connection and invest in their plight regardless of their own involvement with public schools or the endless red tape that virtually prohibits change.  “Rubber Rooms,” “Dance of the Lemons,” tenure, and lotteries are all elements likely unknown to an outsider, and while a few of these reveal a certain gimmicky coercion in their delivery, they are all effectively displayed to expose an undeniable quandary that demands both attention and revision.

Beginning by introducing children from Washington D.C., Harlem, Los Angeles, and more, the director reveals the struggles kids face to receive an adequate education and steadily expands to uncover the drastic pitfalls that scourge the public school system.  Weaving in graphs, charts, animation, vintage footage, old serial clips, and cold hard facts, Guggenheim explores the multiple facets that work to restrict progress and keep the system outdated and inefficient.  With the surmounting wall of bureaucracy, politics, and teacher unions that discourage and hinder reform, a glimmer of hope is offered by those that have managed to thwart their suppressors and prove that change can happen for those determined to give their children the education they deserve.

Everyone seems to be aware of the predicaments with the education system in the United States. It’s probably common knowledge that public schools perform less impressively than private schools, that poverty correlates with poorer education, and that America’s smartest students can’t compare to other countries’ most intelligent equivalents. The biggest two problems (and their solutions) are not as openly discussed. While less exposed, they are expressly defined as bad educators and the two major teachers unions that protect these outrageously unfit instructors.

Through the use of a “tenure” program, which grants teachers lifetime teaching privileges, it’s almost impossible to get rid of them. These organizations prevent bad educators from being fired, even after being ousted as immoral, abusive, unqualified, or just plain disagreeable. The unions strive to create equality for their members, which would have been a good thing back in the ‘40s and ‘50s when the profession wasn’t getting fair treatment. As times have changed, it’s now apparent that the unions are working against the system, allowing money and power to trump proper education. They are, after all, the largest monetary contributors to presidential campaigns. As long as teachers and their leaders in the public school system continue making money, they’re not interested in change. Teacher pay is not based on performance. It’s not about the children and their education – it’s about the adults and their paychecks.

Outside of political and ethical opinions, “Waiting for Superman” is a competent documentary that effectively involves the audience in a relevant, highly universal topic. The featured schoolchildren garner emotion and empathy and represent a decent sampling of students, both poor and wealthy. Many schools are labeled as dropout factories and academic sinkholes, successful methods of alternate education are demonstrated, and facilitators of advancement such as Michele Rhee and Geoffrey Canada speak persuasively. They’re aided by playful animations, degraded archival video, hilarious presidential footage (most notably by Bush), popular music, montages, and movie clips. Much of it is humorous or heartrending, but the most stirring information is the finger-pointing, the acknowledgement of the real problem, and the bureaucratic intrusion that interferes with an easy solution.

– The Massie Twins


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