I had the opportunity to view the movie last night with the University of San Diego’s School of Leadership and Education. After leaving “Waiting for Superman,” I felt both emotionally stripped and emotionally charged. This documentary provides snapshots, glimpses into the problems that I have observed for the last 13 years of working in the field of education. Wearing the caps of both educator and parent, this film reinforced my desire to be a change agent in the field of education.
When Geoffrey Canada said (I paraphrase), “It was 1977 and I thought that the answers were simple and I would have the problems solved in two-three years tops…” I had to laugh. I myself have often held the arrogant belief that if I were part of the solution, the problem would disappear quickly. Maybe the problem has simply been that I have not been working on the solution. After all, it is easy to identify strands of the problem. For example, we know that those students who are capable of learning, are not learning. We know that many inner-city public schools are “drop-out factories.” We know that there are teachers who are not insuring that their students are learning to proficiency. We know that our country lacks strong national curriculum, a feature of almost all high-performing school systems in the TIMSS report. If we can identify these fairly straightforward issues, the rest should solve itself, fixed by 2012.
However the more I learn about the educational system, whether through my graduate studies or through my experiences as an educator, I can’t help but to liken the problem to cancer. Cancer starts out simple, a few cells here and there, but as it thrives it can become an intricate mass of destruction. When a surgeon faces a complex tumor, he or she is faced with the dilemma of removing the malignancy without damaging the body’s organs as a whole. In education, all of these simple problems seem to metastasize into a complex and potentially fatal growth that has become systemic. So we who hope to be educational reformers have to decide how to make the first cut without forever scarring the system. Watching Geoffrey Canada and Michelle Rhee, reformers with radically different methods, I thought how brave one has to be to take on the role of “surgeon” for our schools.
Watching the film I found myself asking, what is the method for change? Guggenheim included the map graphic depicting the complexity of local, state and federal influences on our school systems. Is it possible to have a national solution to change in our schools, without a massive non-partisan paradigm shift? We know those non-partisan moments are possible, as evidenced by the across-the-aisle work on No Child Left Behind. This example also shows us how problematic a national movement can be if not carefully constructed and executed. Having said that, what might a national solution look like? Or should we be taking a page from the Harlem Success Academy, KIPP, SEED or even the Preuss School here in San Diego and effect change for the local population one school at a time. Can our nation’s children wait for a solution that is garnered gradually through local movements? I have to believe that effective educational reform will be a combination of the two.
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I am inspired to delve into them through my continued graduate work. As a parent of small children, it is hard to be patient and wait for educational reform. However, with movies like “Waiting for Superman” to inspire dialogue among the greater public– the same dialogue we in education have been having for years– perhaps the day when solutions are found is a bit closer. For the sake of Daisy, Francisco, Bianca and the others for whom the public school system is not working, we can only hope.
Have you seen “Waiting for Superman”"? What is your response to it?
- Movie review: ‘Waiting for Superman’ (timesunion.com)