Waiting for Superman – An Uncompromising take on American Public School Education System
Every well buttered Asian teen will have an American Dream, for sure. America, boasted as the home of the largest number of universities, sticks to its #1 status in attracting foreign students for higher studies. US universities and colleges attract about 16% of the foreigners. UK stands next to US with 11%. A lot is talked about higher education of varied disciplines in America. But what is the face of school education across US, in specific the state run ‘public schools’?
Documentary filmmaker David Guggenheim– who could instantly be recognized if introduced as the maker of the documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ (2006) which covered Al Gore’s worldwide campaign on global warming- has come up a hard hitting documentary on US school level education, with ‘Waiting for Superman’ (2010).
Waiting for Superman is an interview type documentary that gives a glimpse of the American reality in school education, through a series of interviews of American kids and their parents- mostly Afro-Americans, Naives of the third world. They are the poor folks who couldn’t afford to the hefty fee structure of the private schools across the country and therefore are left to choose the state run public schools.
With a well researched and sequentially arranged montage shots showing the American presidents addressing on the school education for decades has been presented initially after which the current reality unfolds. Needless to say it’s bitter, and polar opposite to the sugar coated promises of politicians. This 110 minute documentary touches every aspect of school education – from comparing the private and public schools, the widely varying selection procedures across schools and colleges to enroll pupils in their institutions, the quality of public schools across the states, the quality of the teachers in poor performing schools and the politics of the teachers’ associations in protecting these inefficient teachers hindering the principals from taking actions against them and a lot more practical issues faced by pupils and their parents alike.
A study showing a vast majority of federal prison inmates are school dropouts- about 60% of the total prison population and it goes on to compare the chunk of tax money injected in taking care of the prisoners Vs money afforded to educate a child. It is shocking, also surprising at the same time, to know that a whopping $132,000 is spent on a four year term inmate while the same amount of money could have well be utilized to educate a child throughout his/her schooling. This just underlines the underbelly of capitalistic dominance that feeds inmates to prisons constantly, in a shallow manner, if not in depth.
The documentary manages to bring forth the pathetic mode of selection system called the ‘lottery system’, practiced in respectable schools, to enroll kids in various grades. Such shameful schemes arise due to the lack of less quality schools and more applicants fighting for few available seats in every grade. Beside it also briefly touches the influence of economic differences affecting the educational future of a child and underlines the common bias that poor kids cannot match up with learning skills of their middle class or upper class counterparts and disproves this by bringing for the success story of educator and social activist Geoffrey Canada’s HCZ (Harlem Children’s Zone) model.
On the other hand it showcases a worrisome poor performance of high school kids almost in every state, in reading skills and math skills. It might shock the American viewer to stomach the bitter truth that the national capital shows poorest performance in these regards.
The film indirectly warns that the high skilled, high paid jobs waiting in the future, will inevitably go in to the hands of immigrant Americans as the employable natives are steeply declining. This deeply researched and stirring documentary furnishes its points loud and clear, substantiating its arguments with relevant sources and ultimately reveals the ground reality that could be put in short as,
‘United States of America which is called the most powerful nation globally has its citizens falling short in terms of foundational education with the rest of their global counterparts. A nation however powerful could not be independent if its self reliability in the domain of education is waning’.