Waiting for Superman: End of Discussion?

In Education on November 9, 2010 at 4:59 am

Many people are calling Diane Ravitchs’ review of Waiting for Superman as the proverbial end of discussion. Written up in the New York Review of Books, Ravitch gives a thorough and illuminating look at the documentary. Most notable is her ability to cite numerous sources corroborating her claims that the movie is bogus despite drawing national attention to one of the country’s “giant pink elephant’s.”

I haven’t seen the film but I am very familiar with the plot. The narrative drive of the film is of five families spread out around the country, who want one of their own to get into a high performing charter school through a lottery. Naturally, and in true Hollywood fashion, we learn by the end of the film who gets into the school and who does not in what is the movies tear jerking climax. It’s classic storytelling. It is also one aspect of the movie, the centerpiece of the movie, that I’ve had issues with since I heard of the plot. Apparently, Ravitch did as well:

In the final moments of Waiting for “Superman,” the children and their parents assemble in auditoriums in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Silicon Valley, waiting nervously to see if they will win the lottery. As the camera pans the room, you see tears rolling down the cheeks of children and adults alike, all their hopes focused on a listing of numbers or names. Many people react to the scene with their own tears, sad for the children who lose. I had a different reaction. First, I thought to myself that the charter operators were cynically using children as political pawns in their own campaign to promote their cause. (Gail Collins in The New York Times had a similar reaction and wondered why they couldn’t just send the families a letter in the mail instead of subjecting them to public rejection.) Second, I felt an immense sense of gratitude to the much-maligned American public education system, where no one has to win a lottery to gain admission.

Diane Ravitch writes a must read review for anyone interested in the subject of education reform, anyone who has seen the movie or anyone who is interested in seeing it. Check it out at the link below.

The Myth of Charter Schools [NYRB]


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