Where do I begin with this?
My sister and I had two different kinds of education. I went to public schools; she went to a magnet school. I went to a local art college; she went to an out-of-state university. I got a Bachelor; she got a Masters.
And this film upset the both of us. A lot.
For those that don't know, Waiting for Superman
is a documentary film about the broken United States public education system. It presents several facts and explains in the simplest way possible what is wrong with the public school system. And believe me when I say this: it's fucked.
The film relies on statistics and other citable facts than anyone can research. Hell, most of the numbers and charts they throw up on the screen are cited on the screen. But the solutions this film presents are rather simple to fix a complicated problem. Too simple to work. Even the most optimistic person I know, which is my sister, thinks these fixes are not realistic. They are an ideal solution that doesn't have a realistic scope of any kind.
To paraphrase her passionate point of view, the film presents the public school system in a skewed perspective. The film focuses on five kids trying to get into good schools by luck of the draw, but the five kids they focus on have parents who actually care and support them and their education. They want them to succeed. But that's not every kid out there. There are kids out there who are told by their own parents that they won't graduate. There are kids out there whose parents are in gangs telling them that they don't need a degree when a gun can solve all their problems for them. And then there's learning disorders the film doesn't even consider! What about those kids?
This film made my sister so angry, I can pretty much guarantee her Spill rating would be a Fuck You!
Hell, at one point, she told me that the film was false. A completely untrue film, and talking her into seeing that the main objective of the film was to present the facts that can be researched and looked up at any time was a difficult task for me.
As for what I thought of the film? I was also made upset by what I was told.
At one point in the film, they illustrate something known as an education track. Basically, a student is put on a path in the public schooling system based on their test scores and other arbitrary factors, one being (not surprisingly) race. The few that are put on the fast track graduate high school prepared for college and often are the ones that excel in what they major in. The ones that are put on the slow track are the ones that are not expected to graduate. If they do, they are not expected to go to college. And the cut between those two paths are as small as a fraction of a point on a test.
When I learned this, I had a flashback to high school. Recently, whenever I tried to think about that time, I draw a blank and get visibly angry. Something different happened. I remembered being one of the smarter students in classes full of idiots. Meanwhile, all my friends who I was able to have intelligent conversations with were all in another room studying things I wouldn't get to for months at a time if we were ever going to talk about them at all. It then became all to clear. I was put on the slow track. Why? Because I didn't make the cut on a test. Because in my folder showed that I had a comprehension problem in elementary school. Because the school felt that I wasn't smart enough to be prepared for college.
While I may have defied the odds and got my degree, learning this nearly ten years after my high school graduation just made me pissed. My education was essentially taken out from underneath me. And what makes it worse was the fact that I was completely unaware of this. I knew the tracks existed, but I didn't know I was on the slow track. I didn't know that the state didn't think I was good enough, was smart enough to be put on the college prep track. And for that, I had to deal with four years of dealing with classmates who would rather tease and bully me for their entertainment than actually attempt to figure out the solution to x=3y/9. I'm sure being the only one that could figure that equation out at the time didn't do any favors to their self-confidence. If anything, it gave them a reason to bully me.
And maybe on some level the state was right. It took this film to make me realize that my education was a cheat. So maybe I'm not as smart as the state would have liked me to be, but to put me on an education path that was intended for the students that they didn't feel would make it to college?
Personal feelings aside, the film did a great job of presenting the facts and explaining certain elements of the system. What I didn't appreciate was the tactic this film took by emotionally manipulating the audience via the five kids the film focused on. All five of them have really ambition life goals, but they are all going or are heading for a school that won't help them reach them. The last 15 minute of the film is nothing but all five of these families sitting in a school lotto while a counter in the corner shows their odds of getting in getting slimmer and slimmer. In the end, out of the five kids they focused on, two got to go to the schools they wanted to. It's a beautifully crafted tear-jerker, but one that is designed to make you both upset and angry at the same time.
If the subject matter interests you, be prepared for a lot of emotional manipulation and unrealistic points of view. Education reform activists will no doubt head out to the theatre the moment the film hits their city, but for the mildly interested? Rent it.