Tuesday, November 2, 2010

it's not just about superman

Last week I was chatting with my advisor when the movie Waiting for Superman came up. She asked if I'd seen it yet, which prompted me to go into my very long list of all the reasons I wasn't sure I wanted to see it. The main reason being that it could make me so angry that I spend valuable time yelling about the state of the education debate while poor Mr. Lipstick tries to study for his own midterms. I just didn't know if I could emotionally handle it at this point in my somewhat hectic life.

When my rather long monologue/rant ended she gave me the look I give my kindergarten students when they tell me they can't read today because their feet hurt. "Go see it." she said.
So I did.
it wasn't that bad. In fact, at times it made me want to stand up in the theater and shout "I am a public school teacher at a Title 1 school!" with pride. There were times I nodded along in agreement at how difficult it is to get anything done in school bureaucracy. Of course there were times I wanted to yell at the screen for being bias, or for clearly not presenting the whole story, or for leaving out small yet important details.

It gave me a lot to think about and I know I have more posts about it coming. But my first impression leaving the theater was frustration with the entire education debate. I have read many, many blog posts and articles on Waiting for Superman. I've heard people refer to it as having all of the answers to fixing education and ending original sin, while others discuss it as though it will single handily undermine education while killing puppies. I've heard it highly criticized and I've heard it highly praised. But to be honest, as I walked out of the theater, I couldn't think of anything I read about it that accurately reflected the arguments in the movie. Everyone seems to have taken what they wanted to take from it- blogs quote statistics or scenes from the movie to support what they already believe, completely disregarding the other scenes or statistics in the movie that contradict them. I left more frustrated with the education policy community's discussion of the movie than the movie itself.

I will say though that the movie simplified many large issues or debates in education, or only showed small pieces of larger topics. The only parents highlighted in the movie are parents who are highly invested in their children's education. I found it ironic and frustrating to watch these parents fight for a spot in a charter school when my coworker just blogged about all the parents who just refuse to come in to parent conferences or play a role in their children's education at all. Many of us in public schools are fighting not just to teach these kids to read but to encourage their parents to be involved in their education.

Another area where I think it simplified its facts was with the Harlem Children's Zone. I idolize Geoffrey Canada of Harlem Children's Zone and want to be him when I grow up. I could watch an entire movie on his schools and still want to know more about his programs. He is profiled throughout the entire movie, and much of what he discusses is also in the book Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough.  Yet the movie makes Canada's journey seem easy, while in Whatever It Takes he discusses some of the true difficulties he ran up against that should truly be considered whenever discussing the role of charter schools and public education in education our neediest children. If we want to make true progress we need to look at past road blocks and learn from them, not just brush them under the rug.

The movie did a nice job of highlighting the importance of good teachers (although it left out how a principal or school would define and measure good teachers), and stressed how essential good teachers are to children's education. It also talked about how no one is a great teacher their first or second year- it takes practice and is a continuous learning process. (I went into the movie worried it would be a TFA love fest, but TFA is not mentioned throughout the entire movie).

But it did not have all the answers, nor did it highlight all of the problems. It was a start, like putting your toe into the ocean. So- if you  liked Waiting for Superman you need to read:

-Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough about Geoffrey Canada's journey to develop Harlem Children's Zone
-The Working Poor by David Shiplar  for an understanding of what our families are going through
-Beautiful Child by Torey Hayden  for a picture of what dedication and obstacles can exist for children and teachers
-Anything by Jonathon Kozol for vivid images of our public schools
-Welfare Brat by Mary Childress  for a picture of a child growing up in poverty and overcoming the odds
-Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire by Rafe Esquith  for intense teaching strategies and motivation

Don't read any of these books as though they are the Bible, but instead read them to add to the broader picture of public school education.

What else do you recommend? What's shaped your understanding and beliefs about education?

More on Superman coming in later posts.

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