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"Waiting for Superman" Conveniently Omits Information, Takes Advantage of Viewers

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Mayor John Peyton speaks about the education reform movement in Jacksonville before Waiting for Superman begins.
(Image by Jacksonville Public Education Fund)
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Mayor John Peyton speaks about the education reform movement in Jacksonville before Waiting for Superman begins. by Jacksonville Public Education Fund

Director Davis Guggenheim's documentary film, Waiting for Superman, rightfully presents how disadvantaged children in America have, for at least the past decade, suffered tremendously because of the perils and pratfalls of America's ailing public education system. Unfortunately, Guggenheim conveniently omits information about public education and politics to allow for a simple solution to be presented to a complex problem--a simple solution that may work but may come at an expense to teachers and the principles and philosophy of public education in America.

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At least two thousand public schools in America are revealed to be "dropout factories" or "failure factories." Tenure, bureaucracy, the big teachers' unions, overcrowding in schools, and, to an extent, the culture or environment in schools become part of the film's presentation for why children are not getting the education they deserve.

Ostentatiously, the documentary opens with an animated representation of "Superman." Geoffrey Canada, education reformer, appears on screen calling for a "leap of faith" in believing in our schools as the director establishes that there currently is no "Superman" coming to save our nation's children.

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Guggenheim provides an account of his motivation for making the documentary, explaining that he made a documentary, The First Year, and believed teachers embodied the hope that public school could work. When it came time to send his children to a public school, he enrolled his kid in a private school instead of one of the three public schools in his area.

From that point on, the audience is introduced to five different students who are being impacted by the failures of America's public education system. The introductions come with on-screen interviews with the young students who demonstrate how they have the potential to turn into great contributing members of society, if they can only get to college. For example, Daisy says to-camera she wants to be a nurse, doctor or veterinarian and would "like to help somebody in need" and that she got that idea from reading books in the library.

Along with the students, the audience hears from parents or guardians of the children. Each one happens to be the ideal parent a student would like to have when going through school. For example, Nakia, Bianca's mother, demonstrates a willingness to do whatever necessary, even if it means taking two and three jobs, so that her daughter can go to college because she believes going to college means you get a degree and you don't just get a job but a career.

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Many of the parents happen to be people who didn't fare well in high school. They didn't move on to college or they dropped out to help family get by. Or, they dropped out because they gave up and wanted a job instead. In any case, it is evident that they realize a mistake was made--they didn't truly understand the value of education. The parents or guardians on screen hope their children will go through school and regard it differently. And, they hope the children will have a reason to appreciate school, which is why each of the parents or guardians chooses to enter their children into lotteries to get into charter schools.

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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for

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