I’m not waiting for Superman. Waiting for Superman, Davis Guggenheim’s new educational film is presently receiving a media blitz. Guggenheim (the son of a documentary filmmaker) funded his film about the perils of the current educational system. In the film, Guggenheim, follows 5 students in their educational journey. According to the Waiting for Superman movie website, ”In spite of their rousing determination and grit, the shocking reality is that most of the film’s touching and funny cast of kids will be barred from a chance at what was once taken for granted: a great American education.” The film breaks up the educational problem into several sections of need: kids, teachers, administrators, unions, schools, states and the nation at large. Inevitably, these kids have one hope of receiving a good education, a lottery system to attend a better public school. The implication that a good education in America today can only take place through a lottery system for specialized schools is simply not true.
I appreciate the attention that Guggenheim’s movie is giving to education reform, although I do not appreciate the big business media blitz to privatize education. Waiting for Superman is the metaphorical surfboard of big business stakeholders to privatize education for financial gains.
This powerful movement of policymakers superimposing structure to the educational system started back in the 1980s. Nicholas Lemann stated in a 1997 issue of Atlantic Monthly that in the 1980s “the idea of raising standards in public education emerged as a national cause.” In 1983 the National Council for Excellence in Education commissioned by the Reagan administration produced a report, A Nation at Risk. This report identified a national education crisis and recommended nationwide administration of standardized testing by states and the local educational systems. The use of the testing data was to better diagnose and evaluate student progress. “The view in the education world (was) that politicians never before tried to dictate specific teaching methods to this extent,”(Lemann, 1997).
With standardized testing came the creation of businesses to produce the books and products for the schools to utilize to accomplish their testing goals. Today, educational concerns are many. For over twenty-five years, big business has been riding on the backs of policymakers’ decisions in the field of education.
The standardized testing market is reportedly a $400 million to $700 million annual business that is largely controlled by three publishers (Harcourt Educational Measurement, CTB McGraw-Hill, and Riverside Publishing, a Houghton Mifflin company) and one scoring firm (NCS Pearson). A unified flow of substance and dollars runs directly from policymakers to textbook companies, leaving school districts with virtually no options. The few options available to districts for purchase and to teachers and students for use are dictated by the same policymakers and companies.
The great hope of America’s youth does not lie in privatizing the public school system, because that benefits the same big business conglomerates, not the students. Waiting for Superman and all of the attention it is receiving directly benefit the movement to privatize education.
In contrast, Race to Nowhere, a student-centered documentary, was made on a shoestring budget of $200,000 dollars. Director Vickie Abeles painted the picture of how today’s youth are struggling in the current system and how a collaborative effort of students, parents, teachers, administrators and community leaders is needed to problem-solve the needs of the today’s kids. The movement to privatize education does not directly benefit from such a collaborative approach.
The message of Race to Nowhere is not implying that a new private educational system is needed for kids to be healthy, happy and whole. The student-centered educational message of Race to Nowhere has been ignored by the media. An Internet search of Waiting for Superman yields 944,000 results, while a search of Race To Nowhere yields only 77,200 results. Why has Race to Nowhere gotten little to no attention from major media sources when compared to Waiting for Superman? It is simple; Waiting for Superman is a movie that has a villain and a quick fix provided big business, while Race to Nowhere calls for a collaborative movement of communities.
Big business will not make any money on students, parents, teachers, administrators and community leaders collaborating for a healthier happier educational system. A fear monger message of a poor kid in the Bronx that can not seem to receive an education unless a private system is created beats the path toward a money making venture.
I’m not waiting for Superman and neither is any kid in our country. What we are waiting for is a grassroots collaborative effort that really puts kids first instead of using them to fuel big business profits.