A Call for Conversation

There is a lot of buzz about Waiting for “Superman,” the movie about the educational system in the US. Now, buzz can be good and bad.  Our kids and our educational system need some buzz, so I was excited to see that there is talk popping up around the film.  The buzz seemed positive at first.  Oprah loved it, the trailer gave me goosebumps. This was exciting!  Education is on the pop culture radar! Let the conversation begin!

But let’s be honest, our polarized society is having a hard time with conversation as of late.  I mean, there is talking and then there is conversation.  We like to proclaim and pontificate and not listen.  We like to blame and deflect and use anger, which is not always good buzz.  And stakes are high.  People have decided they did not like the film just off the buzz.  I did not want to be that person, so I went on opening night in Minneapolis. I really thought the film had a lot of good things to offer the conversation, and I am so dedicated as a teacher to that conversation.  The anger and defensiveness in regard to the film addressing ineffective teachers, charter schools and unions surprised me because there is no one way that will reform education and offer children more opportunity.  This seemed like a useful voice in the conversation.

I will openly admit it was easier for me to not get defensive watching Waiting for “Superman” as a private school teacher.  I take my different perspective seriously when listening to teachers talk about the film.  At my school, there is no tenure, we have to earn our contract every year.  There are no unions at my school.  We get paid less than our public school counterparts, and we have a waiting list, hundreds of families waiting to pay $9,000 a year.  I was struck by the disconnect between my daily reality and the reality in the film.

It was interesting to watch Waiting for “Superman” in the state of Minnesota.  People move here or stay here and brave horrible February blizzards in the name of good education. And our education is good here, comparatively.  But we rank very high in achievement gap.  Embarrassingly high.  I am a white woman.  Our faculty is almost exclusively white.  We have 18% students of color, many of whom are tracked for non-honors courses.  Closing the gap and making our school actively anti-racist is work we are currently and urgently engaged in.  I was encouraged that that work needs to continue.

The film is not perfect.  I don’t think it is not meant to be.  It is one part of a very important conversation.  Good teaching is an art, and every teacher I know is a brilliant hero.  But we still need to talk about ineffective teachers because even as a numerical minority, they do exist.  There are advantages and disadvantages to unions, and we need to talk about it.  Charter schools are one possible step, but far from the only solution.  I liked this film because I think it is igniting a very important conversation about the state of education in the US.  And I get sad when conversation gets replaced by polarized talking.  I would recommend seeing it, and I would encourage you to be part of that essential conversation.  Be an active stakeholder whether you are parent, tax payer or educator.  Adults have to come together and work together so that children who want to learn have access and opportunity.  The most powerful part of the film for me was when it stated that adults are fighting in the world of education and the youth are the ones suffering.  So I find it ironic that adults are fighting over the film, some without even seeing it.  I am glad people are talking, now let’s start conversing.  Buzz is not enough when education is on the line.  We can take this energy and the increased voices at the table work together toward complex, holistic, compassionate transformation and improvement.