I saw Waiting for ‘Superman’ today, the much-hyped documentary by Oscar winner Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth). I was all set to defend the movie to my teacher friends who decry its anti-union sensibility, some of whom won’t even see it on that account.
Now, having seen it, I don’t feel much like defending it. I’m glad it was made, and I’m glad a lot of people will see how people in poverty have to struggle with lousy schools. I’m glad that the movie demonstrates that all kids can learn. I’m sorry, though, that the movie puts so much blame on teachers and teachers’ unions.
Call me crazy, but I really don’t think teacher tenure is the fundamental cause of our schools’ problems. That’s the conclusion many viewers will come away with. The film doesn’t show buildings falling down. It doesn’t show broken windows and stinking bathrooms.
I wish after seeing Waiting for ‘Superman,’ people would go directly to their local library or bookstore and pick up a book by Jonathan Kozol. He doesn’t think that raising test scores is the Ultima Thule of education, or that education’s highest purpose is to transform children into cogs in our economic system to ensure that the United States remains the Number One Country in the World.
“Instead of seeing these children for the blessings that they are,” he wrote in Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope, “we are measuring them only by the standard of whether they will be future deficits or assets for our nation’s competitive needs.” Jonathan Kozol went on a fast “as [a] personal act of protest at the vicious damage being done to inner-city children by the federal education law No Child Left Behind, a racially punitive piece of legislation.”
He dares to write about the joy of learning and the exuberance of children, not just about lengthening school days and mandating uniforms. “Why not give these kids the best we have,” he writes, “because we are a wealthy nation and they are children and deserve to have some fun while they are still less than four feet high?”
Since 1967, Jonathan Kozol has written twelve books on poverty and education and has spent countless hours working with teachers and schools and speaking tirelessly on behalf of urban education. It makes me very sad that he’s not even mentioned, let alone interviewed in Waiting for ‘Superman.’ I’m afraid that Kozol’s brand of idealism and activism is passe.
Have you seen the movie? Are you boycotting the movie? I’d love to hear what you think.