Earlier this week I watched Waiting for Superman in a mostly empty theater.
While it would have been great if the movie took a broader view of the diverse efforts and theories of reformers past and present, I did not leave upset at Guggenheim or any of the reformers in the film. I was crying a bit. The movie is meant to be affecting. The kids’ experiences are cut into specific sequences for specific purposes. However, regardless of the film’s craft, those kids exist; they have their hopes and disappointments; we teach them; we teach kids who are worse off; a few tears are in order for way too many kids caught inside and outside the film.
I do think the film has problems, but I think we educators can own those problems and use platforms like this blog to help solve them.
For example, I think it’s our problem that a filmmaker can portray teaching as the decanting of knowledge without much objection from the general public. Who are we waiting for to educate the public otherwise? Who are we waiting for to tell us to teach otherwise? Who are we waiting for to insist that great teaching can exist apart from test scores? Those folks aren’t coming, either.
I also think it’s our problem to address the schism between charter schools and traditional public schools. To be frank, there really isn’t a schism. First, our best selves all want the same things for students – safety and success. Moreover, while public schools have to take everyone, it’s not like we’ve done away with tracking or the other implicit practices we use to let kids who struggle know that they don’t belong in the same place – KIPP school or honors classroom – with the kids who, according to our perceptions and expectations and definitions, “care about getting an education.” If the lottery tells us anything it’s that there are not enough places, period, that families perceive to be serving their kids with the right mix of compassion, expectation, and support. There are not enough places that re-engage the disenfranchised with hope. That pop #edreform wants to scale up its efforts represents a good faith effort to make a difference, even though their means and ends are identical to effective test prep wherever it is. Every single one of our classrooms could be the site of more meaningful reform if we risked it. While that sounds easier said than done, it’s easier to do than to go through a whole career of lockstep compliance and daily frustration. We need to concern ourselves with the type of curriculum, assessment, and instruction our system values rather than with which types of school push those values.
When I say problem, I don’t mean to blame us educators for anything. I want to be clear: each problem is a systems problem that is ours to help solve. It would be great if our leaders didn’t sit us at the kids’ table while they’re talking; then again, there’s no better place to change public education than alongside the kids in our classrooms.
Let’s ask our kids what they wish Superman would help them learn, and then let’s help them accomplish it for themselves.