Instead of simply telling the audience that the system is broken and corrupt, Guggenheim shows what is wrong through the eyes of the students.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of Waiting for “Superman” and its implications for American children and our country as a whole. As he did with his Academy Award-winning film An Inconvenient Truth, director Davis Guggenheim has catapulted another crucial issue into mainstream conversation. This time, Guggenheim draws attention to the education crisis in our country and the dangerous, depressing system in which American children find themselves.
The film focuses on five children and their journey to a lottery that will determine whether or not they are able to attend a charter school. If get into the school, it will promise them an excellent education and a bright future. But if they do not, they will be relegated to their neighborhood “dropout factories” that almost guarantee that they will not graduate high school or attend college. The idea that children have to enter a lottery to receive a good education is the motivating factor that drives Guggenheim’s frustration and the film’s central theme.
The heroes of this film are the educators who have made drastic and sometimes controversial changes in how the education system works. Geoffrey Canada runs the Children’s Zone in Central Harlem in New York, an area known for having the poorest performance in the state. His passion for education and groundbreaking charter school structure has proven that the system can be fixed with the right people in charge.
Another superhero is Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public school system, which is one of the worst performing districts in the nation. Rhee is determined to clean house in the D.C. school district by getting rid of the teachers and principals who are underperforming. Her plight is especially disheartening because the strong backlash she receives from the teachers’ unions is making any real change almost impossible.
The film is an extremely moving examination of the education system on both the national and local levels. It shows that the system’s injustices do not just affect children and their parents. These problems affect everyone, because our society will soon be filled with uneducated adults who will be unable to contribute to the work force. Microsoft founder Bill Gates makes an especially powerful point about the future of our country, given the direction in which we are currently headed.
Guggenheim depicts the importance of making immediate changes by contrasting facts and statistics with the personal stories of children whose parents are struggling to give them the most advantages and best opportunities available. As a filmmaker, Guggenheim knows when he is becoming too didactic. Instead of simply telling the audience that the system is broken and corrupt, Guggenheim shows what is wrong through the eyes of the students.
Anyone not living in a cave for the last two months has certainly seen the news coverage and discussions of Waiting for “Superman.” The increased dialogue and media appearances are similar to what happened in the wake of An Inconvenient Truth, but in that instance the resulting motivation to make a difference quickly dissipated. Hopefully this film will have a more long-lasting effect on Americans and lead to significant changes and action to help this country’s children. | Matthew F. Newlin