Waiting for Superman
I made the mistake of watching "Waiting for Superman" yesterday. It wasn't a mistake because it was a bad movie, but rather, it was a mistake because by the end I was sobbing like a baby.
The documentary is basically an indictment of the American public educational system, with the main villains being the teachers unions who protect bad teachers at the expense of both the students they teach and the really good teachers who are continually brought back to the mediocre pack.
It turns the idea that teachers can't be expected to improve the performance of disadvantaged children on its head, and instead of blaming the neighborhoods for the schools, blames the schools for some of the deterioration of the neighborhoods.
The heroes are the education reformers who try to break the power of the union to stifle reform, mostly by starting charter schools that aren't bound by union rules on tenure, school day length, etc.
The documentary was made by the same folks who made "An Inconvenient Truth", so while it's extremely emotionally effective, it's not exactly balanced. The focus is on high-performing charter schools, which, according to the statistics presented in the film, is still only 1 in 5 schools.
I know a lot of people have a problem with the way that the teachers unions are depicted in the film, but I don't. Sure, they're never given a chance to say what they would do to improve schools, but we all know what the answer is by now anyway: smaller class sizes and more teacher pay. Seriously, that's all they've got. You'll never hear anything about more teacher accountability because even though teachers have the most important job in the world and should make so much money and garner so much respect, you can't possibly ever evaluate them in any way because they can't really do anything if the kids they're working with aren't very smart.
It's very important to realize that teachers unions represent teachers. That's their job. They don't represent kids or the concept of "education".
The filmmakers point out near the start how American students lag behind the rest of the world except in one category: confidence. We may be dumb, but by god, we're awesome. It's the "special snowflake" syndrome. Sometimes I think teachers feel the same way. They think they're all amazing educators only hampered by the "raw material" they have to work with because their union contract basically prohibits anyone from telling them anything different.
But enough about the teachers. Watch the movie and what you'll remember are the kids. The documentary follows five kids and their struggles with bad schools. The one that got to me the most was Daisy, a little girl from L.A. who dreams of being a doctor or a vet. She's obviously very bright and has parents that care about her future, even though neither of them ever graduated from high school. The filmmakers devastatingly map out Daisy's future, though, showing the terrible middle school and high school she'll have to attend: a high school where only 3% of the kids graduate with the necessary requirements to attend a California public university.
Because of the movie itself, I think Daisy and the other four kids will probably be okay after all, but then you start thinking about all of the other Daisies out there and you just start crying again.
I don't know why local school boards sign contacts with teachers unions that basically tie their hands and prevent any real reform. Maybe they don't care or maybe they're owned by the unions or maybe they're intimidated. Whatever it is, they're not doing their job either. I can only hope that some of the recent discussions about public employee unions will change that and that school boards will realize that teachers aren't untouchable and that teachers unions will realize that they're hurting most of their members by focusing on protecting their worst members.
My fear, however, is that the attacks of public unions simply means that those unions will feel more defensive and feel like they need to close ranks just in order to survive. They'll feel like they can't give in even a little because a little might lead to a lot and a lot will lead to the end of teachers unions as we know them.
So instead, we'll probably do nothing and kids will have to hope that if they didn't win the life lottery of being born into relative privilege that they'll win the secondary lottery to get into a decent school.
Posted by kris at April 3, 2011 09:29 AM
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|# April 3rd, 2011 11:13 AM themandownthehall|
|You nailed it dead on. I'm no fan of teachers unions or unions in general, but, they are there for the teachers. And no teacher, not one, can teach a bunch of kids who don't care or use school as a place to cut up away from home.
The bottom line is no amount of money, no amount of teachers, nothing will help until we toss the kids who are disruptive out. It's mean, yes. It means we basically trash-can lives of kids who have no parental discipline or parental/peer support. Yep. Too bad so sad.
There are too many kids from the inner city to the rural farms who WOULD LOVE TO LEARN if they didn't have the ones who didn't occupying the teachers time for discipline.
Get rid of the anchors, build prisons to warehouse them when they commit the crimes they are going to commit anyway, and be done with it.
Maybe if a couple flunkies get tossed and wind up in the jail, others might get the message. Probably not though.
|# April 3rd, 2011 11:19 AM kris|
|That's not the message of the film at all. What these successful schools are doing is saying to kids "we will not allow you to fail". They're saying that a great school and great teachers can help these kids - all of them.
And the problem, as shown in the film, isn't that there are too many disruptive kids taking up the teachers' time, it's that no one can do anything about the teachers that suck or that don't care.
I feel like what you're saying is that the schools would be awesome if we could just get rid of the shitty kids - and that's basically the teachers union's argument too - that it's the shitty kids fault for low performance.
|# April 4th, 2011 9:16 PM themandownthehall|
|Well, I was saying you were dead on in your assessment of teachers unions. They are there for the teachers not the kids.
I think the movie is a bit deceptive. I doubt those schools had any amount of kids like the second grader at the school here in Rowan County who has two separate attacks on a teacher this year. One a punch to her face and another a stabbing with a fork in her arm. Or any like Pedro who is in my wife's class where she is an assistant. He fails every test because he refuses to take the tests. He won't ever write his name on them. He aces his homework because his (as he brags so nicely) sister does it for him.
I don't care what the movie says, kids like those 2 take valuable time from the class and make it hard for others.
Can a great school with great teachers maybe turn some borderline kids around? Absolutely. It's been documented. But those kids wanted to learn and cared. They can be saved in any school if the flotsam and jetsam are ejected.