Waiting for Superman

Is our children learning? No—and here’s why, argues Davis Guggenheim’s rousing documentary on public education. As smart and passionate as our schools should be, Waiting for Superman interviews families worried that their kids will be shuttled into “dropout factories,” low-expectation, no-hope institutions like the high school in Los Angeles where two-thirds of the students quit after their freshman year. Do bad neighborhoods create bad schools? Or do schools that fail their children fill the surrounding blocks with unskilled, un-ambitious teenagers who perpetuate the cycle? Apathy will bankrupt our nation: the cost of locking up one kid for four years for a drug offense is the same price as sending him to 13 years of private school with $24K left over for college. The kids Guggenheim introduces us to—mainly inner city elementary schoolers from D.C., Boyle Heights, Harlem and the Bronx—are young enough to expect a good education. But in their parents’ eyes, we see fear. Schools failed them; how can they save their kids? The temporary answers are magnet and charter public schools, sanctuaries where hardworking teachers give young, poor students an education that equals (or in some cases, surpasses) private schools. But they can’t fit everyone. Some can only take one kid for every ten who apply. And so, families must trust their futures to a lottery, and Guggenheim shows us the faces of hopeful five-year-olds who know enough to cross their fingers that the school calls their number. Around them, accepted families cry in happiness. Still, their happy endings cost another child a chance to learn. The powerful documentary demands we level the playing field. At stake is the future of our kids—and the future of our country.

Click here for Waiting for Superman in the IE Weekly

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