Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 42
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

IS IT A PLANE, A TRAIN? NO IT’S SUPERMAN!: Geoffrey Canada (standing right rear) visits a classroom in one of the three charter schools in the Harlem Children’s Zone. Canada is the CEO of the three schools and the students in his schools have consistently outperformed the children who are enrolled in the surrounding public schools.

Waiting for Superman: Scathing Exposé Chronicles Failings of Public Educational System

Kam Williams

Not infrequently another new documentary illustrates how America’s public schools are failing its inner city students. This year, already, we’ve seen several scathing indictments of the educational system, such as The Cartel, The Lottery, The Providence Effect, and Race to Nowhere.

Now we have Waiting for Superman, which just might be the best of the genre. The film was directed by Academy Award winner Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), a man who has a knack for weaving bland statistics and bureaucratic language into a riveting drama complete with empathetic victims, altruistic heroes, and a power hungry villain.

The play-by-play action is narrated by Guggenheim in an engaging fashion. The movie opens with an explanation of the title by Geoffrey Canada, who is a dedicated children’s advocate. He recalls growing up in the slums in the Bronx and recounts how heartbroken he was the day his mother explained to him that Superman wasn’t real. This news meant that he now had to face the hard cold fact that neither Superman, or anyone else, was coming to rescue him from the ghetto.

Fast-forward to several years after Canada received his master’s degree in education from Harvard University, and we find him back in his hometown wearing a cape as an academic superhero. As the CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), he now presides over three charter schools which have met with phenomenal success compared to the public schools in the neighborhood.

Mr. Canada is portrayed as the life-saving cavalry who is facing an evil adversary, namely Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. She looks downright diabolical as she repeatedly defends the union despite proof of decades of the union’s ineptitude.

On the average, incompetent members of other professions, such as doctors (2%) and lawyers (1%), lose their licenses, however, fewer than 1 in 2500 teachers ever face being fired. Guggenheim proceeds to illustrate exactly how Weingarten, and others like her, have managed to maintain the mediocre status quo by forcing frustrated administrators to follow regulations that were designed to allow disciplinary proceedings to drag on for years.

The upshot, of course, is that thousands of the nation’s public schools have become dropout factories which serve as feeders for the criminal justice system. Of course the students are the big losers, and their parents’ only hope for helping their children is to get them admitted to an excellent program like HCZ’s.

The tension mounts as the action focuses on the anguished faces of families praying that their children’s names will be picked in the lottery. Otherwise, as we’ve been seen, each child’s potential is certain to be swallowed up by the sinkhole known as the public school.

This Oscar quality exposé lays the blame for the escalating dropout rate in public schools right at the feet of a greedy and selfish teachers’ union which appears to not care about educating the country’s children.

Excellent (4 stars). Rated PG for mature themes, mild epithets, and crude humor. Running time: 102 Minutes. Studio: Paramount Vantage.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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