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Friday, August 12, 2011


superman in black and white

The day's documentary was Waiting For Superman, an in depth look at the American school system, examining why our schools haven't done so well over the last 30 or so years. The focus was on the worst schools in the land, looking at what wasn't working, why the kids tended to leave school in large percentages. The primary concern seemed to be searching for solutions to questions of how to make the schools function to better serve the kids. The issue is that the kids are the future. American hi-tech businesses have to recruit people from India for jobs American kids aren't educated for. The film followed some people with ideas, who are putting their thoughts to action and making a very real difference.

Over and over it was found that the problem is not the kids. It's the adults. That's all adults concerned. Teachers, staff, principal, parents, school board, unions. In the places where these different people we might call educators, because that's what their lives are about, put their ideas into action, it's a matter of changing adult behavior, not so much kids. All the various ones who wanted to improve the schools came up against administrative resistance in a major way, like unions. By the time they were able to get certain schools in shape academically, they had found the reason I chose not to go into teaching. The concern was taking care of the adults, not taking care of the kids. I went on to higher education with intentions to become a teacher. But by the time I got my degree, I didn't want any more of school, either side of the desk. I lost confidence in the American schooling system. My conclusion was that it was not education. If I had chosen to go against that learning, my concern would have been for the kids first The adults would have me out of there by end of first year, any way I could be got rid of.

I watched the movie remembering my own schooling. K-6 I preferred school to home. 7-12 was factory school I was never able to adapt to. I didn't have Pink Floyd's The Wall in that time, but I saw factory school similarly to Roger Waters' vision. Just another brick in the wall. Then march in step military and patriotism brain washing. It didn't take so well on me, because military mind was my enemy. I made a weak attempt at a big university factory school. Hated it. After military duty served, I went to College of Charleston when it started a year with a population of 500 and ended the year with 400. Classes seldom had more than 15 in them. All tests were questions to be answered by essay. The school had an honor code from the time of the Old South. Seen cheating, you're out. If you see someone cheating and don't report it, you're out. 100% strict. I liked that. I wasn't inclined to cheat anyway, but could easily be influenced by people around me at that time in the life. The absolute rule kept me honest. It also made me honest through the rest of my life. Four years of meditating on the value of honesty, I got it. 

I don't believe the reference in the title to Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot was accidental. Waiting for Godot is a play of two men waiting for Godot throughout the passage of their time on the stage. They wait, they talk, they anticipate. Godot never arrives. I took the reference to Godot to mean the people who made the film saw situation after situation where some people attempting to make a difference were frustrated, because the problem was bigger than what one teacher can handle. Early on, it was explained the title, Waiting For Superman, came from childhood reading Superman comics. Superman saved the day at the last minute in story after story. Superman never arrives. The documentary follows a handful of creative-minded educators around the country who are doing some serious work toward solving the school problem. Not one of them is a Superman. But if their kind of thinking spreads, we won't need a Superman appearance.  

I couldn't help but admire all the people we watch performing their work that is driven by believing they are doing fulfilling work that benefits many. If the kids are given a real education, hope, reason to improve themselves, they tend not to drop out and be dead before they're 18. It is a major social problem these people are curing at the same time they are finding ways to educate kids in a time when American public education has failed a rather large social class that grows up without hope and ends up in prison if not dead. Cleverly, the director, Davis Guggenheim, included a chart comparing the expense of keeping a prisoner for four years and putting someone all the way through school including college. Keeping someone in a prison is expensive. Helping someone all the way through school is more economical for the State than keeping them behind bars.

Prisons are full of anger, dark energy that makes the convict unfit for the world outside. Good education makes at least a better life than that. Like one of the little girls said, She likes having the choices education offers. Like the people waiting for Superman, I can't help but be convinced that as long as we're going to keep civilization going, when doing it well is an option, why not go for doing it well? Solve the education problem and a great big 'nother problem will be solved right along with it. And probably a few more too. So many of our social problems are interwoven, it appears impossible to untangle them. This film tells me there are people busy searching for meaningful answers in a time they are needed. Even if they don't make a big difference, a small difference will do.

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