Saturday, March 26, 2011

'Waiting For Superman' ...

Am I the last person in America to see this film? I hope so, because I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone.

I had the DVD sitting on top of my television for more than a month. Sometimes, I pop in a DVD the day it arrives. Other times, they languish. I have to be in the mood to watch certain films. It took me a long time to watch "Hotel Rwanda," too.

But Thursday night felt like the right time to watch "Waiting For Superman," and I have to say, it broke my heart.

I had the benefit of a good education. I went to a good elementary school. I went to a good junior high school. I went to a good high school. And I went to a good university.

I was a good student but not a great student. I could have tried harder, but I didn't. My friend Qusai once said to me, in college, "Do you realize that with a little effort, you could be a straight-A student?"

"Yeah," I said. "But with almost no effort I can be an A and B student." For the most part.

I didn't fully appreciate my education at the time. I took it for granted and I opted to coast.

Except for English Teacher Dave's class. He set the bar higher than any other teacher I ever had. And it worked, because I was damned if I wasn't going to make that man give me an A. Of course, I wasn't making him give me anything. He was making me earn it. And for that, I am grateful to him. To this day. I still mention it from time to time. He doesn't seem to mind.

But what I took for granted is for so many others their fondest, yet elusive, wish.

A good education. It's so basic, right? It should be a given. Not a great education. Not a spectacular education. Just a good education.

Yet it's not.

There is a lot that I do not yet know about the education system in this country, but the recent talk of abolishing the Department of Education feels like the exact wrong thing to do. From what I took away from the film, we need a Federal standard. Not a one-size-fits-all solution because one size does not fit all, but an overarching set of principles. Allowing each school board to chart its own course strikes me as ridiculous. How can there be any consistency that way?

And how can we let school systems that are clearly failing simply continue to fail?

How is it acceptable to literally gamble on the future of this country by using lotteries to grant eager children slots in well-performing schools?

I cried while I watched Daisy and Francisco and Bianca see their hopes dashed. And later, when Anthony, who had been wait-listed, received the phone call that he would be able to go to his new school, I sobbed. I was so happy for him, yet still so sad for the others.

The situation is dire but it is not hopeless. Educators have found solutions. Geoffrey Canada and Michelle Rhee and others have proven that change is possible.

It is also imperative. A recent Newsweek story revealed that 38 percent of us would fail the citizenship test. Michele Bachmann, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, recently gave a speech in which she spoke of the Founding Fathers working tirelessly to end slavery.

Shouldn't anyone who is elected to serve in one of the two houses of Congress have a basic grasp of American history?

Of course, teachers' unions are part of the story here, and while I think unions can be a very good thing in giving workers a collective voice, sometimes unions can be a very bad thing in shielding workers who underperform because they know they cannot be fired.

I have several friends who are teachers, very good teachers, and I surely want them to be well compensated for all the good they are doing for the kids they teach. But sadly, not everyone is a very good teacher. Some are downright bad. I had a couple of them in high school.

And I know that it is naive to wish that every teacher would take their job for the very important job that it is and strive every day to to the best for their kids. So, so many of them do. And they are expected to do more and more with less and less. Teachers should not have to buy their own supplies. Teachers should not be teaching with books that are years old and falling apart.

But the system is broken and we are doomed if we accept the status quo.

This is not about teachers and students. This is not about school boards and parents. This is about all of us. This is symbiotic. Good schools make for good communities and good communities make for good schools, an upward spiral.

To be sure, climbing up takes more effort than sliding down. But I can't bear to contemplate the alternative. We have already slid too far. So let's stop sliding. And start where we are.

There is much to be done and each of us must do our part. Click here to find out what you can do to help.


Blogger OneMan said...

Wow, you liked Waiting for Superman. I have to admit I would have lost that bet.

You might find this perspective from a guy who works for the CTU interesting

vs. this guy whom you went to high school with.

I have to be blunt, I never had English Teacher Dave for English and my English teachers in general were terrible in High School. I had lots of teachers in High School I wouldn't have wanted to teach my kids, some that I would have, but several I wouldn't.

You were in honors classes, they tended to attract the best teachers. I wasn't in honors classes and some of my teachers should have been selling cars.

I would have argued my HS was fair at best. I realized this during the first week of Chemistry in college, when we spend half of one lecture on the concept of a mole, in HS we spent a month. A different smart classmate of ours who was in the same class had the same realization that she too, had not had college prep chemistry like we had been led to believe.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I've glanced at the posts you link to, and I'll read them more when I have time to digest them fully, but in a nutshell, I liked the film because it starts a conversation about a huge issue in this country.

Dave and I talked about this film the other night. He hasn't seen it but knows the premise. We came at the discussion from different directions, and I really valued his input as he was part of the system for so long.

We both agreed that we only have a few teachers we can name who really had big impacts on us. Most were "OK." And some, as you point out, would have been better off selling cars.

I had a few of those teachers in high school. A couple of my English teachers were awful, by my standards. Granted, no one was going to measure up in my mind once Dave set the bar.

I didn't have English my freshman year because I went to summer school before high school started and got speech and freshman English out of the way. Sophomore year was Joanne McCue. Not good.

Junior year was a semester of Dave followed by a semester of Carol Reiher. Not good. Bad, actually. We collated The Talisman. I got a B. I got a B in collating. I'm not sure why. I'm sure I put the pages in the right order.

Senior year was all Dave, and I'm forever grateful. My first English class in college was taught by a professor who usually taught graduate-level classes. With the preparation of Dave's class, I was able to hold my own.

It just breaks my heart that kids in this country are being so ill-prepared for life and that education seems to be so undervalued.

"Jersey Shore" is pulling in record ratings. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann is giving speeches singing the praises of our founding fathers who worked tirelessly to end slavery.

I truly fear for the future of this nation.

3:46 PM  
Blogger OneMan said...

Wow you were willing to name, names I give you credit, also I didn't remember them but suffice to say they were the same folks.

I do recall the one of the above named wearing 'interesting' tops when we were in school.

For the most part 'stupid' is nothing new. Thanks to some technology the stupid gets promulgated a lot quicker and we are aware of it much faster.

A congressman screwing up facts or saying something nutty did not result in someone putting out a tweet and facebook post 10 minutes later (Beth)...

It would have been interesting to hear what Dave and if I recall who his wife works for correctly what she had to say.

Also one of our classmates of whom you speak also has a husband that might have a thought or two.

4:14 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

McCue's outfits were so inappropriate. I'm surprised she got away with them.

And if Reiher (I might be spelling her name incorrectly) was ever a good teacher, those days were past her by the time I landed in her class.

As for Bachmann and me tweeting about it, Dave and I talked about this the other night, too: Anyone who is elected to serve in Congress should have a better grasp of American history than that. I don't expect her to know every detail of every historical event, but the "big" issues that are known to most should be known to a woman who works in one of the chamber of the Capitol in Washington D.C.

5:51 PM  

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