Waiting for “Superman” (2010)

Film #5: Waiting for “Superman” (2010)

Waiting for “Superman” is a documentary built on a very sobering fact: The American education system is broken, and it has been since the 1970s. Documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) approaches the subject in a manner in which all successful documentaries are made, combining information with poignant personal stories to expose a serious problem while offering suggestions for possible solutions. Watching this film will give you a solid background on the education issue, explaining what things like tracking and charter schools are. It will also anger and/or depress you, especially the ending that leaves most of its young subjects destined to remain in the broken system.

The fact-providing segments were the parts that interested me the most. Not to belittle the tragic personal stories, but I want to be as informed as possible about this issue. Guggenheim uses archive footage to place American education in an historical context and simple animation to portray the stifling bureaucracy that continues to inhibit the intellectual development of our youth. Geoffrey Canada, a successful education reformer based in Harlem, gets the most screentime, and the film is better off for it. In fact, I would have been pleased with a documentary consisting entirely of interviews with Canada, whose passion and intelligence come through in every sentence he speaks.

The personal tales of various children throughout the country are, like I said before, quite poignant and effective. The movie opens and closes with them, showing how for all the political rancor surrounding education reform, it’s truly the children that matter the most (and are the most affected by the policies). When you see how most of these kids lose out on the lotteries to get into charter schools, the effect is nothing short of heartbreaking. I felt like the film might have benefited from a narrower selection of children – it would have given us the chance to get to know each child a little better, and give each of them more screentime. But the wide selection shows how this problem is pervasive in every corner of America, an important aspect to note in its own right.

Waiting for “Superman” is a film that will invigorate your anger with our government and the ineffective way it handles education. Considering the fact that education is one of the single most important issues of our country (and indeed, our entire species), this well-made and informative documentary should be required viewing for everyone.

Final rating: 9/10

–James A. Janisse

Stray Observations:

  • The problem with teachers’ unions and tenure is just another piece of evidence as to why we need to get money out of politics. The effect that special interests have in our government is staggering.
  • Bill Gates is such a good guy. Loved his input in this film, and really, I just love him in general.
  • The fact that some schools are “drop-out factories” (where more than 40% of their students drop-out before graduation) is staggering.

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