Waiting for Superman to Save U.S. Education
Film to be shown December 10-16; plus discussion with Farnsworth’s director of education at the Strand December 12
Thursday, December 09, 2010 4:59 AM
Movies about education sound about as appealing as a film strip in the class period after hot lunch, but the documentary Waiting for Superman appears to have captured the real anxiety about the state of American education and turned it into a seat-of-the-pants drama. Will the five poor, but motivated kids in the movie make it into a charter school that they believe will lead to a good education and a career? Or will they be sidelined in an education system in which American students lag far behind students in other developed countries in science, math and literacy?
Davis Guggenheim, Academy Award-winning director of An Inconvenient Truth, directed Waiting for Superman in an effort to dramatize the problem of America's failings in education and spur a national conversation about it that could lead to reform. His effort appears to be paying off. The film recently landed on the short list for an Oscar in the Best Documentary category.
The Strand Theatre in Rockland is showing the movie December 10 to 16, with a teacher's rate ($5) for the 3 p.m. showing on Sunday, December 12, which will be followed by a talk and discussion about the film led by Roger Dell, a former professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and the current director of education at the Farnsworth Art Museum.
"I see this film as an entryway to discussion about the state of education," said Dell, who is a proponent of small schools. "I hope it's mostly parents and teachers who come to see the film and that there is give-and-take to move the discussion towards possibilities."
"The film is depressing and accurate and worth paying attention to," he said. "I think it will cause people to hike up the conversation about where we are in education."
Dell pulled out the companion book that goes with the movie and opened it to some unsettling statistics.
"In 2020, there will be 123 million jobs that require high er skills like computer programming, but only 50 million Americans will qualify to fill them," said Dell, quoting from the book.
"We already know that Indians are being brought in to fill some of the high-tech jobs in Silicon Valley," he said. "There will be more of that in different industries."
Dell initiated the creation of a pilot school, a small art-focused middle school in Massachusetts that was part of the public school system. Unlike a charter school, which is outside of school district supervision, the pilot schools are part of a school district, but use a discipline, like science or art, to teach across the curriculum. So, for example, in an arts-focused pilot school a chemistry class might look at analyzing the chemical components of paints used at different time periods and a science class might approach carbon dating through looking at archaeological works of art.
"I am not sure charter schools are the best bet," said Dell. "I have mixed feelings about them. At the end of the day, 95 percent of kids go to public schools."
We need to include all of them in education reform, he said.