A waiting culture

Netflix’s recommendations algorithm, seeing that I had a penchant for hipster documentaries, decided to put Waiting for Superman across my radar screen recently. Along with other titles including The Lottery, American Teacher, Whatever It Takes, and The Cartel. I’ve avoided films on education politics up until now, for the same reason I’ve learned to avoid most edubloggers. Too much negative stuff. Too much whining and complaining. Not enough positives. Because there really are positive things going on in public schools across the nation.

But today, I opened up and watched Waiting for Superman. I know how it ends, just like anyone else who has read about the movie. Thousands of students and their parents, sitting in auditoriums, waiting for their names to be called so they can enter charter and private schools. The film makes you root for the featured kids, and sympathize with them when their name doesn’t get drawn. And a lot of that need for better schools, better teachers, better teaching – much of that need is true.

And yet, why?

If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you. If you are determined to not learn, no one can help you.

In one scene, a girl does get chosen – one of the few – to enter her desired school. A chance at a new life, and new opportunities. But she stifles her scream and covers her mouth. That one position filled by her is a heartbroken kid somewhere else.

Why is there only one, or a few? And even more interesting to me, why do we all chase after those few seats so desperately? There is only one CEO in a company. There is only one principal of a school. One district superintendent. One president of the nation.

But there are many positions for great students, and great people. What is with the emphasis on that one chance, that one school, when greatness can be found everywhere without having to wait for a super hero to hand it to you?

Waiting for Superman‘s final lottery scenes are understated. You see the disappointment, but there’s also some glimmers of hope. I appreciated that subtlety. I also appreciate Geoffrey Canada’s quote at the end credits about how great schools are made out of great people, and that there are great people making these great schools every day, every where.

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