Thursday, September 23, 2010

Inconvenient facts mar "Superman"

The education community is abuzz about the new documentary from the makers of Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth." Called "Waiting for Superman," the movie has a distinct and disturbing bias against traditional public education and the teachers in our schools.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is painted as the villain in the piece. She was interviewed extensively for the documentary, and has appeared in panel discussions to rebut its conclusions since its release.

As Weingarten says in this article, the film's producers have a deep concern for children, but completely missed the mark by vilifying teachers and promoting charter schools as the answer for public education's woes.

Writes the AFT president, "the film casts two outliers in starring roles - the 'bad' teacher as villain, and charter schools as heroes ready to save the day. The problem, of course, is that these caricatures are more fictional than factual."

By focusing on a few identifiably bad teachers and a few high-achieving boutique charter schools, the film skews reality. That's the problem with an ideological, anecdotal approach to documentary film making.

"It is insulting and counterproductive to suggest, as the film does, that the deplorable behavior of one or two teachers is representative of all public school teachers," writes Weingarten.

The reality, she writes, is that many charter schools "perform worse than or just about as well as regular public schools."

The real answer, says Weingartern is to redouble our efforts to make sure that all schools work for all children.

"This film," she writes, "misses a crucial point: We think about all kids, not only some of them. And reforms that affect small numbers of students, even when they live up to their promise, still leave that promise unfulfilled for others. Every child should have access to a great education - not by chance, not even by choice, but by right."

For another viewpoint about "Waiting for Superman," click here to read a blogger's suspicion that the documentary is a stalking horse for business interests that want to privatize public education.

"Yes, public schools have big problems," writes Susie Madrack. "Selling them off to unregulated private bidders will only make things worse."

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