As many of you know I was so blessed to be invited to the screening of the documentary, “Waiting for ‘Superman’” about our educational crisis in America. Since I was meeting face-to-face, for the first time, the amazing Louise Sattler, @Louiseasl for a “Girl’s Night Out” in Chicago and since she picked the magic dates, it was only fitting that she was my guest to our Oprah Experience! The screening took place inside the famous HARPO studio on Sept. 23 and the following morning,
we were inside the live studio audience for the reaction to “Waiting for ‘Superman’”.
This is a must see for every parent, student who is old enough to watch a PG rated move, teacher, educator, administrator involved in education!! This film illustrates that our potential success, the future of prosperity in American and generations to come is in crisis. Warning: the film from Davis Guggenheim, the maker of “An Inconvenient Truth” shares the grim and depressing news that our current public educational system has been failing since 1970 and spending more and more money has not made any significant difference! It fuels the debate on whether it was our failing schools that lead to the downfall of our neighborhoods or was it the downfall of our neighborhoods that lead to our failing schools?
Guggenheim shares the plight of five compelling children who are hungry and eager to learn but stuck inside the walls of a failing public school. We learn the heart-breaking saga of Anthony, Daisy, Bianca, Emily and Francisco. They all have dreams and goals. They all agree escaping public schools is the only option for each of them to succeed. The film also highlights renegade reformer and Superman, Geoffrey Canada, who tried and failed to change the public school system. So he started his own Charter School, The Harlem Children’s Zone, where his educators start with a child and family at birth and stay with them until they graduate from college. We are also introduced to the KIPP Academy, another successful Charter School but we are also told in the movie that many Charter Schools are also failing schools. We meet another superhero, Michelle Rhee and her battle to change the system by cutting the central office and firing bad principals and teachers who were ineffective inside an already failing system. She found education to be more about the needs of the adults. Michelle Rhee’s days are numbered at the top of DC’s public schools. Soon she will be another victim of a system who is resistance to eliminating bad tenured teachers and moving to a pay for performance incentive for teachers to excel. The educational system believes that no teacher should be left behind regardless of performance.
As a student inside a public school in America, maybe you are not surprised by these finding because you have already seen those cracks in education inside your own school. Maybe you have had more than a few horrible teachers, been tested on things no one ever took the time to teach, or have seen your favorite teacher disrupted and overwhelmed by the same three kids who should have been suspended years ago! Maybe you are that teacher who is tired of trying to reform a system that is intolerant of change or maybe you work with that teacher who is stumping those 25 minds in math leaving them 6 months behind grade level?
You can’t go by what the critics have said about this movie because many have inconveniently missed the truth about “Waiting for ‘Superman’”. Many fabulous educators have tried to change the system. They couldn’t because the top tiers of education, those who are paid the most to care about education, care more about protecting their own jobs. They have enabled a powerful ally in the teachers union with the stance all teachers should be protected regardless of performance. Thus Guggenheim’s agenda is simple: to create a firestorm so hot that it smolders and burns down the current failing and crumbling foundation of education. The goal is that failure is not an option and we need an uprising so big that change is the only solution. It is not about teacher bashing it is about a system that needs to crumble from the top.
The only way for Guggenheim to succeed in his quest for change was to keep it simple. He did. The film does not get into the politics of the issues; it is not about blaming teachers but a system that is set up to fail; the fight between public and charter; the need for special needs; teaching to each child; healthy lunches; exercising during gym; national standards on the table that are still immeasurable; and endless other areas that are all important issues in education. Had the film introduced all the issues the masses would have had a field day debating these issues instead of fighting as a united force and a catalyst for change starting at the top of education.
The Oprah Show audience was made up of parents, teachers and school administrators many electrified, outraged and on fire for change! As Cory Booker, Newark, New Jersey Mayor said best, every day as children recite the pledge of allegiance in schools across this nation they are not telling the truth as they end the pledge: with liberty and justice for all. Where is the justice that the success of our kids will be determined by the bounce of a lottery ball?
I cried at the injustice of living in the greatest country in the world, in the land of freedom and opportunity, yet the hypocrisy for these families and millions more comes down to a bounce of a ball? In the film, Anthony has the best odds of that lottery ball being his ticket out of his failing public school. He is among 64 kids who vie for 24 spots and Francisco has the worst odds with 792 applicants for 40 spots. Francisco’s mom broke my heart when she said, “That ball could mean the difference between my son graduating from college or going to jail.” It is actually cheaper on the taxpayer’s burden to send a child to college that it is to send them to jail. We owe it to our bottom line to help all children succeed.
We have enabled this to happen by being compliant and by allowing the inside of our classrooms to become stripped of power and personnel; breaking the foundation of learning and adding more layers to insulate the top tiers of education. The fate of our country will not be decided on a foreign battlefield it will be determined in a battle over who controls the classroom. Many leaders such as Bill Gates believe that if we continue to settle for failing schools we will not be providing competitive skilled workers to operate in the highest paying jobs in our country changing our world dominance. This move has already been happening in the leadership positions in Corporate America; those highest paid American jobs in America are not being filled with Americans.
So what does that mean for your future, your schools future and the future of America? The movie says we can’t wait for Superman. We have to all rise up and be mini super heroes inside each and every school across our great land. How can we unite students, parents and caregivers, along with teacher and educators who want change? We have to work together to revamp education and put the power back inside our classrooms. What are you willing to do? Are you willing to move from the sidelines and take action by working within your own school to demand change? The only solution is for the students, the parents and caregivers and the educators to all come together with a united voice and demand change!
As was announced on Oprah’s show, it has galvanized Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Democratic Newark Mayor, Cory Booker to put politics aside to start from the bottom and build a model for the rest of the nation to follow. Facebook Founder, Mark Zuckerberg likes it and has agreed to donate $100 million to inspire others to get involved. So here is another opportunity for you to be involved, how would you structure education in this New Jersey Public School model and why not find a sponsor for your school to excel your students to the top of the global map? Or are you waiting for ‘Superman’…?