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Book and Film Reviews, Learning at its Best

Reflections on Waiting for Superman: Pouring Knowledge Into Children’s Brains ≠ Good Education

The movie, Waiting for Superman, finally came to rural Maine, and I so I finally got to see it. There is so much in it that is so important and so true. For example: It is a travesty that so many of our children are not learning the basics and are not verbally, mathematically or scientifically literate. It is a travesty that terrible teachers cannot be fired. It is a travesty that there are so many failing schools which are failing kids. It is a travesty that kids have to participate in a lottery to go to a good school.

Yet there was a moment during the film that I found so stunningly off the mark that I wondered if I was really watching a film meant to spearhead an educational revolution. In the scene, cartoon children in a classroom have their heads opened so that information can be poured in. To depict the problem the movie addresses, one child’s head is opened and the pitcher of knowledge is poured next to her, missing its mark. The message from the movie? How horrible that we have knowledge to pour into children’s brains and we are failing to do so.

Eight years ago, at a humane education symposium that we hosted at the Institute for Humane Education, a brilliant teacher, Matt Wildman, shared a cartoon depicting a child whose head is opened while information is poured in. To all of us, it was the opposite of good teaching. It still is. That Waiting for Superman implicitly suggests that this is the goal of schooling – to pour information into our children – is part of the problem. Will they get higher test scores? Probably. Will they learn the basics? Probably. But should this really be our goal for our children’s education? Absolutely not.

In my recently uploaded TEDx talk, I talk about what I believe the goal of schooling should be and the role of the basics in that higher purpose. I believe that in a world rife with injustices and looming catastrophes we need to provide children with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be solutionaries and to use the basics of verbal, mathematical, and scientific literacy in service to a higher purpose of transforming unhealthy and unsustainable systems into ones that are humane and restorative.

Waiting for Superman certainly exposes some of the core problems with our educational system, but its implicit solution is ultimately a meager one. If all we do is more successfully pour information into our kids so they can pass standardized tests, this will still be a travesty. In a world plagued by complex challenges, our children need to be critical and creative thinkers whose educations have prepared them to employ “the basics” in service to innovation, brilliance, health, peace and joy.

Zoe Weil, President of the Institute for Humane Education
TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach”
Author of Most Good, Least Harm

Image courtesy of matt.janz via Creative Commons.

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About zoeweil

I'm the co-founder and President of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). IHE works to create a world in which we all live humanely, sustainably, and peaceably. We do this by training people to be humane educators who teach about the pressing issues of our time and inspire people to work for change while making healthy, humane, and restorative choices in their daily lives. We also work to advance the field of humane education, and to provide tools and inspiration to people everywhere so that they can live examined, meaningful lives. I'm also a writer. So far I've written six books and several articles.

Discussion

5 thoughts on “Reflections on Waiting for Superman: Pouring Knowledge Into Children’s Brains ≠ Good Education

  1. love this Zoe:
    The message from the movie? How horrible that we have knowledge to pour into children’s brains and we are failing to do so.

    i haven’t seen the movie. but i’ve listened to the conversation, the global and local and self conversation, (with or without the movie), where every sentence ends with that overriding idea.
    addressing the detriment to that premise is key to your:
    prepare them to employ “the basics” in service to innovation, brilliance, health, peace and joy.

    Posted by monika hardy | January 24, 2011, 11:34 am
  2. The use of the invented noun solutionary is surely included solely for comedic effect in the otherwise well-written article, right?

    Posted by Jason McElroy | January 24, 2011, 8:57 pm

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