Waiting for Superman

by michael on November 9, 2010

 I returned moments ago from the movie “Waiting for Superman.” The special showing was hosted by The Alliance for Choice in Education (ACE) (www.acescholarships.org ). I became aware of the organization when a mutual friend introduced me to Norton Rainey, a director and member of the executive board.

 Before sharing some of my impressions of the movie, a few sentences about ACE are deserved. The organization has provided over 6,000 scholarships to needy children. It has scholarship commitments in excess of $12,000,000.00. ACE partners with 116 high quality private schools in Colorado. I share two rather stunning statistics: the high school graduation rate of ACE scholarship students is consistently above 90% and fully 100% of ACE high school graduates go on to attend four year colleges! Please visit the website. If possible, make a donation to this extraordinary charitable organization.

 I share a few reactions to the movie.

The origin of the title is derived from the shattering of a dream held by the dominant narrator, a Mr. Canada. I forget his first name. He was a fanatical reader of comic books, absorbed in the fantasy and thus crushed when his mom told him, at the age of eight or nine, that there is no such person as Superman. The jack-hammer pounding sense of loss was the obliteration of the hope that someone would save him from his own defeating environment. As Superman had always saved people from imminent emergencies and certain death, the young Mr. Canada was waiting for Superman to extricate himself from his impoverished and predatory life.

 “Waiting for Superman” is a powerful movie. There is no literary plot or a build up of suspense, except for a few moments at the very end of the movie when lottery drawings for school admissions are presented and some children make the cut and most do not. Rather the movie is a systematic, unrelenting methodical portrayal of the vile failure of aspects of the public school system and a dispassionate observation of those that create those aspects of the septic-tank-like public education system.

 The movie is physical; it hits you, not so much a karate kick in the stomach as much as a constant pounding throughout the hour and a half of the program, like being at the receiving end of a prize fighter’s punches for 15 rounds. You see failing schools, violent neighborhoods, decaying homes, schools and communities. You see young children striving to improve, striving to make their way in an unfair world and you see thugs, tyrants and so-called educational professionals willfully destroying children’s lives. That adults do such things is beyond obscene, but, of course, we know that some adults do things far worse than operate bad schools.

 The movie is, of course, visual, and that is the source of its greatest power: seeing the faces and the tears and the anguish of parents and children desiring no more than to rise to the challenge to work harder to make themselves and their families better. Particularly impacting for me was the momentary scene when a mom wrote a $500.00 check to enable her child to attend a charter school, sacrificing, making difficult economic choices, realizing this money may be the only way to keep her child from the vulture’s claws of a culture of failure and despair.

 It is an uncomfortable movie. Watching people subvert children’s lives cannot be otherwise. Ultimately, however, the movie was uplifting and optimistic. Methods and policies exist that can salvage the public school system and can elevate lower income children from “failure factory” schools. I look at the eyes of these little children and I certainly want to believe that policies do exist. All it takes is political will, which means the solution is not likely to be implemented except in rare and isolated instances.

 There may be counter arguments to the facts and premises and ideology presented in “Waiting for Superman.” If any reader has a comment supporting such a claim, I would be happy to read it and, if credible, to post it.

In any event, there can be no more waiting for some external otherworldly resolution. We must conclude, with or without enthusiasm, that if Superman exists at all, he is us.

MGS

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