'Waiting for Superman' trailer: Children Left Behind?

Maybe once a year, a documentary will somehow break through the mass of superhero sequel remakes, prestige Oscar bait, and movies that star Meryl Streep to become a genuine popular success. These films tend to run in two directions: Political-flavored provocations (Bowling for Columbine, An Inconvenient Truth, and Super Size Me), or triumph-of-the-human-spirit cute-porn (Spellbound, Young@Heart, and March of the Penguins). But how about a documentary that combines the two approaches: A film that makes an important societal point, while also making you cry happy inspirational tears? How about a film like Waiting for Superman? (See trailer embedded below.)

Everyone knows that the American education system is broken. (If you don’t think so, watch season 4 of The Wire.) Part of me is just excited about the chance to see how a smart documentarian like Davis Guggenheim approaches the issue. The trailer definitely piques my interest with an appearance by Bill Gates and tough-talking D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, as well as with the intriguing factoid that the youth of America has never been more confident, despite (or because of?) declining literacy.

But I gotta be honest – part of me just wants to see Chicken Soup for the Education-Nerd’s Soul. I was lucky enough to have parents who valued education, but the sight of adolescents struggling to get by in difficult school conditions is genuinely inspiring. When young Anthony says, “I want my kids to have better than what I have,” he’s expressing one of the most selfless human ideals — the urge to make life better for those who come after you. It’s an ideal that we could all take to heart.

What do you think, PopWatchers? Will you see Waiting for Superman? And does this totally make you forget about Babies, or what?

Comments (25 total) Add your comment
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  • Cee

    As a high school English teacher in an inner-city school, I cannot WAIT to see this film. I hope it comes out in Houston soon. I respect and value the work that Michelle Rhee is doing in DC and hope she can spur educational reform ACROSS the country.

  • harry

    I want to see this movie!!!

  • Tina

    This is so true. The education system is lacking on many levels. I can’t wait to see it!

  • Joe

    One of the main issues with the current education system, is that Teachers rarely “teach” anymore, and the truly good teachers get lost in the system. Rather, the poor teachers and professors spend their time “indoctrinating” their classes to think like they do, and punish free thought. It’s preaching “have an open mind, as long as you think exactly like me” – which isn’t open at all.

  • Joe

    More to the point of my earlier comment – teachers are spending valuable learning time indoctinating kids instead of teaching them, such as taking time out of a math or english class to make politicial commentary. Doesn’t matter where you lean, such things are not for the classroom, other than a Political Science course. And not putting all the blame on that (parenting has a lot to do with it too), but when you also look what parents are up against in the broken educational system, its no wonder many parents are disheartened.

    • Judy

      Hey Joe. I am an elementary school teacher and in all the schools I’ve worked in, none of us try to “indoctrinate” our students. You are right, politics do not belong in the classroom and in all my years as a student and a teacher, I’ve never seen them in any of my classrooms except in political science. That being said, I know our educational system is broken and there are many reasons for it. 1. Politicians have invaded our educational system and made it very hard to enact needed changes. These people have no idea what it means to teach or how kids learn. While I believe in national standards, school districts need more local control as to how to spend their money and how to design their schools. What works in San Francisco, may not work in Chicago and we need the freedom to create what works. 2. Teacher’s unions are often a huge problem. Sometimes their attempts to protect teachers hurts kids by blocking reform and changes because “it isn’t in the contract.” If you don’t believe me teachers, try changing something major in your school. My school did and we had to fight the union tooth and nail to enact our changes and some of us suffered through a year of harassment from the president of our union.
      3. Parents. While many parents actually parent, there are more and more parents who don’t. They don’t value education, manners, or respect. They will not punish their kids because they want to be “friends”. They expect us to do everything in the 6 or so hours that we have with the kids. 4. Teacher tenure. I have had and have worked with some horrible, horrible teachers, yet it is incredibly hard to fire them because they have tenure. We need to make it easier to get rid of the bad teachers so we can keep the good! I hate seeing a new, young teacher with fresh ideas and hope laid off because he/she doesn’t have tenure. At the same time, some teacher who should have retired 10 years ago sits in the classroom handing out worksheets and belittling the kids, yet he/she is protected. Does that make sense?

      • DanBronx71

        There is something very telling about our society when we have to rely on these Hollywood Types SELF professed Champions of Change to tell us what JUDY has clearly laid out are the underlying causes of our diminishing educational system. Can we expect this Documentarian to present this issue in an objective journalistic fashion (say, mention the strangle hold of Unions) or will he go the Michael Moore route? We’ll see.

    • Marc

      Search for TUSD Ethnic studies.

  • The Truth

    There are two main issues in our educational system. First is the parents, a child’s education starts and is reinforced by the parents. Parents also must realize their child is not the perfect angel destined to be the next big whatever, stop blaming the teachers and taking the child’s side on everything. Second teachers need to focus on teaching. Our local public school teachers went on strike because they only got a 2% pay increase instead of a 2.5% increase. In a time were people are losing jobs or not getting any increase let alone a guaranteed one really shows how selfish these teachers are. In a time when everyone needs to make cuts including government to make things work, I guess you can count the teachers out in helping, nice example to set for the kids. The goal of the teaching profession is not to get rich, but to help educate society. If you want to make a lot of money you chose the wrong profession.

    • Susan

      I could not agree with this comment more. My daughter will be teaching at one of these charter schools next year and is currently tutoring and doing teaching training. I couldn’t be more proud of the difference she is trying to make in some child’s life. The comment by “The Truth” is right on

    • Matt

      The fact that you tell people that if they want to make money they shouldn’t teach shows exactly why we have such bad teachers. You get what you pay for and society is getting what it pays for.

      • AR Teacher

        Thank you, Matt. There are some of us, like Susan’s daughter, who are working VERY hard to be the best teachers we possbily can, but in this economy, like “The Truth” says, it is sometimes too hard to live and be a good teacher. I can’t tell you the amount of my personal income I have put into buying supplies for my kids, basic necessities, and more advanced materials because my school district, as funded by the state, can’t do it! I don’t get paid enough to live my personal life and my professional life and cut it VERY close at the end of every month. This is not simply a black OR white issue. It is very VERY gray. No teacher, good or bad, does this job for selfish reasons. It simply doesn’t reward you enough. Those of us who don’t mind are the good teachers, the ones who go the extra mile. Those who do care, and won’t go the extra mile, may only be in it for the schedule and some meager earnings, simply regurgitate information. Either way, we’re spending 190 days a year working with children who usually don’t care what we have to say. Yes, it’s our job to inspire, but how is that more selfish than sitting in a cubicle punching in numbers for the money? 2.5% increase may not seem like a big deal to you, “The Truth” but when you’re having to deal with what teachers deal with, it probably was a big deal to those teachers, who can’t do any better for your kids without that 2.5%. And I GUARANTEE you that some of those teachers were forced to make a choice based on their union. If there’s only a hand full of people fighting for your rights as an employee, if they tell you to strike, then you strike. Bottom line. “The truth” is, there will always be a problem with every major system. There will always be parts of it that fail. The best we can hope for is that the positive points are supported.

    • Shelly

      Teachers are the most important professionals that we have, they educate all students. You and everyone else can read and respond to this post because of teachers. To call them selfish is just down right wrong. I work at a school, not as a teacher, and I se them go above and beyond every day. I do not think there are to many others out there that would stay after there work day is done just to be ready for the next day. When the day is done and the students have left they still have work to do so they stay and do it and they do not get overtime they just do it.
      To blame the teachers for the problems in education is like blaming your Dentist when you get a cavity, you can not make a student learn all you can do is provide the information. If we want to hold someone accountable how about the parents. Did you notice the boy in the film said he wanted to make his grandmother proud? Wonder who is raising him? But it must be the teachers fault if he fails right, not his parents.

  • E

    I’ve got to disagree with both Joe and The Truth. In my opinion, the number one drain on America’s education system today is the power that the NEA has over the education process. But that’s a rant for another time.

    So, as someone who started off well in a fabulous public school System only fall between the cracks due to the system’s GAPING flaws, I cannot wait to see this movie. The notion that many children in this country have their futures decided for them by a lottery is truly nauseating. Change needs to happen in a big way and I hope that this movie helps spark that.

  • j

    I love to hear people criticize teachers. It proves that the education system needs to be fixed. Its amazing really. You go through McDonald’s, get a bad order, you might curse or grumble. But next time you want a burger? You go back. Think education. Some teachers do some stupid things, NO DOUBT, and now all teachers are the problem. Funny thing, at $5 a child per hour, a babysitter would make $189,000 for a school year’s worth of time. Average teacher pay, $38,000. Shame on teachers for wanting more money. Not like price of living went up for you too. Another funny thing? Our elected officials, who get raises and perks, don’t really care about education until after they use it to get in office. Yup. Those dog gone teachers are just horrible!

  • K8

    What about the parents passive role in education, especially in the inner cities and poorer districts, a lot of these parents tend to blame the teachers when their student does poorly rather then help these kids with homework. My mother sees it first hand every day in the district she works in.

    in the 40s and 50s people might not have finished school but they went on to careers and to find work, these kids that drop out today do not really do this, they drop out of everything, school, society, etc. The schools definitely need to weed out the weak teachers but they also need parents to support the schools and the educational process as well

    • Dana

      I agree: parent or guardian involvement is so important to a student’s success. However, this movie seems to be firmly against the notion that parents in low-income areas play a “passive role” in their children’s education. I work in a low-income school district, and parent involvement there is if anything much greater than it was at the suburban high school I graduated from. In my experience, most parents in any income bracket want the best for their children. Placing blame on a population that is being failed only deflects blame from the education system that is failing them.

      As for not “helping kids with homework” – the achievement gap is not a new phenomenon. Many of these parents received the same lackluster education that their kids are stuck with now.

      • Shelly

        I work in a low income district and the parents are not involved so you are lucky where every you work. This is the second district I have worked for and both were very low income districts. Parent teacher confrences are sad when the parents don’t show up so the teachers can inform them how their student is doing. These parents work or have other committments that away form them being there for their kids. I have had many kids tell me they have to leave school early to go home and babysit so their mom can go to work. Parents that are no involved in their kids lives do no justice to their kids. Teachers fill the gaps a lot of times for these kids and they do not have to. All kids can succed if they want it bad enough but they have to want it a teacher can not force them to learn only they can do that.

  • Patrick

    I saw this film at Sundance. It’s great. I’m a former teacher and I definitely felt beautifully conflicted in watching it. It challenged a lot of my long-held beliefs and I had to ask myself why I was still holding on to them.
    Guggenheim goes beyond the debate taking place on this page right now. It’s not just teacher pay or parent involvement. It’s a broken system that is currently preventing itself from improving.
    Go see this film!

  • Matt

    That’s truly what people miss about the mess. The system rewards poor performance or at least rewards minimum performance. 95% of the money and focus is on kids who don’t want to be there. Administrators try to put their best teachers with the kids who don’t want to be there and end up burning out the good ones real fast. If pay were so great you wouldn’t have such a huge number of teachers that voluntarily leave in the first few years.
    Both of my kids are gifted and there’s hardly a program for them where we don’t have to pay a fortune for them to get in. The teachers just give them A’s and tell me how wonderful they are and then go back to trying to get the drug dealers to add fractions. Biggest mistake of my life has been not figuring out how to get them in a private school.

  • Sara

    “Everyone knows that the American education system is broken. (If you don’t think so, watch season 4 of The Wire.)” Don’t you think it’s ironic that you’re using a fictional television show to support a factual statement (which actually isn’t factual–the majority of Americans ARE satisfied with their local public schools.) Public school children–on the whole–get an excellent education. Public education is actually one of those things that we got right as a nation.

    The real problem is that poorer children don’t get the same standard of education as the rest of our children, and the issues of racial discrimination, education funding, poverty and inequality are much, much deeper than the superficial explanations Guggenheim offers here (he would know, having been educated at one of the most exclusive private schools in the nation, btw.) Teachers and teacher’s unions as institutions are not failing our children–in fact, few adults care more about our nation’s kids than teachers do (and what is a teacher’s union? It’s a group of united teachers!!) We ALL have to take responsibility here and consider what we have done to our kids. The fact that you use a fictional television show to support a non-factual “factual” statement proves this point even further.

    Please, watch this film with an open mind. It’s much easier and less complicated to blame a group of people than it is to ask how you yourself–as a parent, a student, a citizen–contribute to these problems. But if we truly do care about our kids, we’ll stop blaming and shaming, and start to truly make education a priority in this country.

  • Arnold

    While I agree there are a lot of incompetent teachers in classrooms around the nation, an overlooked fact is, as an overall percentage, there are more incompetent administrators than there are incompetent teachers. Were that not the case, how would you explain the hiring of inept teachers and their retention?

    In my 27+ years as an educator, I have come across my share of poor teachers. But I have to say, many of the administrators I have worked with and been supervised by have been complete morons. They usually fall into two groups: crappy teachers who decided they were not going to like it in the classroom or ex-jocks/coaches. Yes, this is a generalization but this has been my experience.

    So you have either: 1) poor teachers who are now in charge of supervising and “helping” teachers. Often, these admins are threatened by very competent educators and impede best practices. Or: 2) sports-oriented admins who hire coaches first and then make room for them in classroom settings.

    I do not condone poor teachers and will be the first to support their removal. But who is making the call? An admin who finds my success threatening and decides to get rid of me? Let’s base it on results and compare apples to apples.

    We should seek to remove incompetence in the system, regardless of where we find it. But we should not overlook the administrative role in poor results.

  • Catherine

    The truth is the system doesn’t value great teaching. Only mediocrity survives. Charter schools are not the answer. You can be a great teacher there, but the minute you make a good salary you are gone–because they want young, dumb and cheap. I am very proud of my record with the 1300+ students who have been through my classroom ( 6th-12th grades). I made a difference in those lives. I am a great teacher but haven’t had a classroom since 2008. No room at the inn for experience, excellence or maturity. The myth now is that only young inexperienced recent college graduates can be excellent teachers–so wrong and short-sighted. I know of three teacher prophets–each of them has been teaching for more than 20 years. I await a documentary that doesn’t take the easy way out–pandering to nonvisionaries like Michelle Rhee. All of my students had a great teacher, benefitted from having an adult in their lives who cared. I am sad that I will never again teach, but happy for my students who still keep in touch with me.

  • Heather Campbell

    I can’t wait to see this film!!!!! I am a public school teacher in the largest urban (inner city) school district in Ohio and my school is that “great school” that everyone wants to lottery their child into. In fact my 5 year old daughter is on the wait list for my (inner city) school even though we live in a school district that is a School of Excellence with Distinction. I know there are “bad schools” out there and with this film I hope we can inspire schools to provide great educations (with the parent help and support).

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