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Waiting for Superman: the review

October 11, 2010

After all the hype, Waiting for Superman finally came to my neck of the woods, and I got to see it this past friday. It was a pretty moving film—of course, it’s hard not to be moved by the story of these curious, engaging children, facing some crazy lottery that seems to literally decide their future. Sad.

But the movie itself seems to only want to present one narrative. A narrative that is pretty far removed from the classroom. As best I could tell, there wasn’t a single moment where you saw what was really happening in a classroom for any extended period of time to see what students were learning. When you did, you saw a whole lotta memorization, repetition and kids sitting in rows, following orders, even if those were the “shout out the rhyme at the top of your lungs” KIPP style orders.

But perhaps even more telling to me is that there wasn’t a single interview with an educator in the film. There were plenty of interviews with administrators (Michelle Rhee), University professors, and even one teacher of the year turned administrator, but not one single teacher describing his or her day, the real struggles she/he faces and the small triumphs she/he is making. I simply don’t buy the idea that simply getting rid of bad teachers is the answer. As a DC resident, who saw first hand the effects, both good and bad, that Michelle Rhee had on DCPS, I can say that she is grossly oversimplifying the problem, and pretty out of touch with what’s happening in the classrooms around the District.

If you want to see a movie about the problems facing education right now, I’d point you to the much more nuanced, much more thoughtful Race to Nowhere. This movie does a very good job of talking to kids and teachers about the real stresses they are facing, and talk concretely about how our push to standardize and test are drawing our focus away from learning.

That’s the movie we should be talking about.

Here are a couple of reviews of WfS I found particularly relevant:

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