Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010
18

All the Ways That "Waiting for Superman" is a Fraudulent Piece of Propaganda

Have we mentioned the completely devastating takedown in the NY Review of Books of the documentary Waiting for Superman? That's the film that follows some youngsters through the DEVASTATED WASTELAND of our public schools as they yearn to enter a for-profit system that… won't serve them any better, but will make some people a lot of money! (The piece also serves as a good primer regarding the system of lies and distortions used to advance these schemes to privatize and make a fortune from education, by means of charter schools.) It is a fantastic bit of writing and we really encourage you to read it—it's zippy and brief and a great fact-check of a truly dark and manipulative piece of propaganda.

18 Comments / Post A Comment

Jim Demintia (#1,815)

The most offensive detail is that Guggenheim got his inspiration when he was driving his kids to their fancy, probably outrageously expensive private school one day and happened to pass by a public school. This made him think about how hard it must be to be a peasant, so he decided to make a documentary which claims that money and resources aren't a major contributing factor to the quality of public education.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

I liked what Jonathan Kozol said to the National Council of Teachers of English conference back in '98 or so: "When they tell you can't solve the problem of education by throwing money at it, just say, 'Works for your kids.'"

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

The argument that factors outside the school have a profound impact on student performance is a potent one, and it's something that, to a person, every teacher I know complains about. The problem is that when you're talking strictly in the context of education, saying that sounds like a cop-out, like something a crummy teacher would say to cover her ass.

People seem to like to compartmentalize things and think that if only our kids had better teachers, whether in public or private or charter schools, everything would be better. This attitude ignores two things. Firstly, there's already millions of teachers out there, good and bad and just alright. Where are all of the new, super-competent teachers supposed to come from? And secondly, education doesn't occur in a vacuum. We're not dealing with learning robots, who would function better if this cog or that cog were adjusted. These are humans, who have lives outside the classroom, who might not be motivated self-starters, who might be hungry, or feel unsafe at home, or just not have the support needed to succeed. We think of education as the tool to fix the social problems in our country, but really, we need to keep those social problems in mind when we're trying to fix education

Agreed! I think that more often than not success at school can be indicated by whether or not the student's family values education or if they view school as a glorified baby-sitter for their children while they're at work.

Both my parents are teachers. My mom, who is retired, is now a tutor at a public school where she works one-on-one with students who are failing or close to failing. The one-on-one sessions are held during the school day (so the students have to attend) at no cost to the kids. She's a good and dedicated teacher and but some of the students still fail because they are not convinced that education is important because everyone else around them doesn't care about school and seems to be doing "fine" (if by fine you mean living off of welfare or working at the grocery store and having their first child at 16).

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

\"Agreed! I think that more often than not success at school can be indicated by whether or not the student\'s family values education\"
I think that the point is that no individuals, be it teachers or the parents, are to blame, and that there is something wrong with the entire society, and specifically with the thinking that it\'s up to teachers or the parents (or the kids) to go and fix themselves.
While it may be true that students from families that don\'t value education will not succeed in any school, it still begs the question: how do we make all (or as many as possible) families value education? The education system should not simply separate winners from losers, it needs to work to create as many winners as possible. Further, the society should not view education as just another industry that can either fail or succeed. Therefore, we need to fix everything in this country, not just hand people vouchers, or simply declare that good families will prosper while the bad ones will suffer.

refractor (#3,009)

If we buy the argument that teacher quality accounts for, at most, 20% of educational outcomes (and that seems reasonable to me), then the problem of "solving education" is really the problem of solving poverty. But it's much easier to bemoan bad teachers than it is to take a hard look at the social structures that put kids in poverty in the first place.

Bittersweet (#765)

Great comment. People also ignore how many really smart and enthusiastic teachers leave the profession after 3-5 years. And not because they want to make zillions as investment bankers.

deepomega (#1,720)

True facts all. I'm super pro-charter schools (in DC in particular?) but it's hard not to believe that their mere existence as quote-unquote better schools that parents have to engage with and apply to means that they're self-selecting a bit for students who can be more successful.

garge (#736)

Thank you for this link. As someone who can't watch that "School Pride" show without bawling all the way through, I found this very grounding, emo-wise, as well as incredibly enlightening and horrifying.

garge (#736)

I remember reading about how a simple change in approach to dealing with premature infants in the 70s–treating them as if they were full-term newborns, instead of unlikely-to-survive tiny purple blobs–drastically decreased the mortality rate of premies. It was with similar hope-tinged awe that I listened to the This American Life about the Baby College/charter school in Harlem and they discussed the gap-closing, education lever-wise, made by simply reading to young children. Of course, having time to do so is income level contingent in and of itself, but it seemed shockingly hopeful and able to traverse class. Anyway, not to discredit good work that people are doing, it is good to get beyond a splashy AmEx commercial and become aware of the gross for-profit underbelly of the charter school issue, as I had ridiculously no idea.

bb (#295)

well, I think that's the thing (and Ravitch would agree) – some small number of charter schools are doing a great job. But a lot of what they are doing is not telling students that they are bound to fail, plus they are doing it with all these fresh societal resources (not just $$ but media attention, community eagerness etc). When they then turn that model around on existing public schools, and hammer home over and over again how public schools are failures and "devastating", it compounds the problem – treating those students, as you said, as unlikely-to-survive purple blobs.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Oh my god you have no idea how much I HATED being discussed like a purple blob. I can still get quite a healthy rage going on the subject from time to time.

Birdie (#5,811)

The Ravitch piece is a necessary, thoughtful counterpoint to WFS, but not all charters are for-profit, and some serve kids indescribably better than their public school alternative would. (Disclaimer: my husband teaches at an excellent non-profit charter in SE DC).

Personally, I find Sandra Tsing Loh very compelling on this subject. Unlike Guggenheim, her kids are actually enrolled in LA public schools.

\"How a pushy, Type A mother stopped reading Jonathan Kozol and learned to love the public schools\"

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/03/tales-out-of-school/6645/

deepomega (#1,720)

I can't stand when people describe public school as "devastating" – acting as though the problem comes from public-ness as opposed to from the frankly insane and amazing goal of educating every kid in a nation of 300 million. While I'm pro-charter schools, and I'm certainly not opposed to the existence of private schools, there's no reason public schools can't be extremely effective with the right parents/social networks/etc.

(Oblig grain of salt: I went to public schools and a state university, so maybe I am biased here!)

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Likewise likewise likewise. Granted, I lived in good school districts, but people talking about public schooling like it's the kiss of death need to calm down a bit.

David (#192)

The Miami-Dade county public school system is the 4th largest in the country. There are currently 400 public schools, and 92 Charter schools. Of the public schools only 1.8% of them (19 schools) got an "F" (as in failing) in the "no child left behind" scored evaluation. Of the Charter schools 10% — (more than 5 times as many), received an "F" in the same evaluation. So yea, many students in Miami need help– particularly the ones in the Charter schools.

Asked you a question
I didn't need you to reply
Is it gettin' heavy?
But they'll realize
Is it gettin' heavy?
Well I thought it was already as heavy
As can be

Is it overwhelming
To use a crane to crush a fly?
It's a good time for Superman
To lift the sun into the sky

'Cause it's gettin' heavy
Well I thought it was already as heavy
As can be

Tell everybody
Waitin' for Superman
That they should try to hold on
Best they can
He hasn't dropped them
Forgot them
Or anything
It's just too heavy for Superman to lift

Is it gettin' heavy?
Well I thought it was already as heavy as can be.

Tell everybody
Waitin' for Superman
That they should try to hold on
Best they can
He hasn't dropped them
Forgot them
Or anything
It's just too heavy for Superman to lift

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