“Waiting for” Superman, “Davis Guggenheim’s latest documentary, describes the failing American education system. First and foremost, it is a very political film that really wants to put the problem of education on the map. Director Guggenheim is also no stranger to Washington. He previously shot “The Inconvenient Truth” for Al Gore and was involved in President Obama’s campaign. The film also seems to have caused quite a bit of uproar and outrage in the United States. As a pamphlet, this work of Guggenheim has already succeeded in America. Will the film also have some feet in the ground in the Netherlands?
The documentary shockingly shows how bad the education system is in the United States. In almost all American states, performance is below par in language and mathematics. In the capital Washington DC, even it just gets done! A large number of schools are well-known dropout factories, schools where more children drop out of education than they actually graduate. Frustrated reformers and shocking statistics aren’t the only means by which Guggenheim brings his point to the fore. Five American families with young children were followed for the film. The families are forced to rely on a public school. We see how parents sometimes desperately try to get the children into public schools that give the children the best opportunities. Guggenheim also wanted to point out clearly the victims of the failing system.
In the documentary, the filmmaker does not hide where he believes the causes of the problems lie. First of all, they are unmotivated, bad teachers who are ridiculously well protected by their union. Many an educational reformer, in the film they are all determined heads, biting themselves against the bureaucracy and the unwillingness of trade unions to change things. Few of them seem to want to stay in service for much longer than a year. Schools even resort to a “lemmon dance” in their desperation. Every year they send their bad teachers to a different school and they also get some bad teachers in return. The system is fueled by the hope of getting better teachers back than the teachers the school is getting rid of. Incidentally, not all public schools come out as dropout factories. On the contrary, at so-called charter school, weak students also receive attention, which means that relatively many pass. These schools are very popular and there are long queues for this. Lotteries decide who will be admitted to these better public schools and who will not. The highlight, and actually the most dramatic moment, in this film is the shooting around these lotteries.
The children are anxiously hoping to be admitted. However, their chances are terribly slim. And yet it is not a film that leaves the audience in despair. The successful charter schools are showing hopeful results. We also see how Michelle Rhee, the new teacher inspector, manages to achieve results in DC. This is also the problem with this documentary. How objective is this? There is no real hearing back. Although a chair of the teachers’ union comes into the picture a number of times, she is portrayed as the leader of the conservative forces that make the system paralyzed. In fact, this documentary is not really a documentary. It is a political message intended to guide the political debate. Don’t forget that when you watch this movie!