Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of a charter school known as Harlem Children’s Zone, explains the title of this documentary in his statement that he was totally surprised as a young adult that Superman is a fictional character and therefore, there is no one alive who is powerful enough to save us all.
Geoffrey Canada is somewhat of a Superman himself, however, in his ability to get underprivileged children in Harlem to be successful enough to get through high school and even through college. He is largely dependent on private donations and his work consists of laborious trial and error.
The documentary examines the American public education system in detail. It describes how easy it is for a public school teacher to achieve tenure and how difficult it is to then fire a tenured teacher. By comparison, in Illinois, only one in 57 doctors loses his medical license, one in 97 lawyers loses his law license, but only one in 2,500 teachers loses his credentials because he is protected by union rules.
The film also examines teachers’ unions whose main interest is to support current policies and protect teachers’ jobs. A startling revelation is that poor teachers are sometimes relieved of their teaching duties and made to sit in a classroom with other teachers, all of whom are unoccupied by any duty. They are still on the payroll however and will not lose their tenure. This is a fact even though the dropout rate in urban public high schools in the U.S. has reached an alarmingly high percentage, nearly 50%.
The viewer has a close look at five children who are the victims of the American public education system as they attempt to be accepted into a charter school through lottery, which is their only hope to improve their lot and the lot of their families. These children are Emily, Bianca, Anthony, Daisy and Francisco. Anthony is the only one of the five children who won the lottery which opened the door to his future success. The parents of the other four children were moved to tears along with their children because they are unable to rise from the inability of their present school to provide a meaningful education.
Davis Guggenheim, the producer of Waiting for Superman, is to be commended for his detailed condemnation of America’s public school system. It appears from the film that black and Hispanic children are the main victims of this travesty. Guggenheim frankly uses the terms “drop-out factories” and “academic sinkholes” to describe the deplorable conditions he has unearthed.
It is good that these facts have come to light. However, the film offers no real remedy for the problem. Even charter schools have not always been successful. Except for a few dedicated teachers and administrators scattered here and there, such as Geoffrey Canada, the system seems to prefer the status quo, taking care of teachers and ignoring the needs of the children.
The last five Presidents have desired to be called the Education President, throwing good money after bad, but have been unable also to come up with real solutions to this serious problem which endangers our country’s status throughout the world.
Documentary – Waiting for Superman (2010)