Grading 'Waiting for Superman'
View of a college professor
I see them coming in from the high schools, of all classes, ethnic groups and age cohorts, some with high GPAs, graduated with honors, and many unprepared. And although I’m a supporter of the public schools, I think my faculty colleagues must take responsibility for the dismal outcomes of our graduating students. Realizing that social class and family dynamics are the principal predictors of success or failure in school, the classroom environment and effort put forth by teachers are important variables.
My response to Waiting for Superman was to feel acknowledgement and articulation of what I have seen over the past twenty years of teaching, my kids’ experience in school and what my students have described for me: important academic subjects taught by coaches and teachers with no interest in teaching; watching Disney cartoons in high school classes while the teacher surfs the Internet or answers e-mail, discussions of the Friday night football game in history class. Many students have informed me that they had so much extra credit in their classes, they could fail virtually every test and earn a C or better in the class; that they wrote no papers in junior high or high school, instead simply cut and pasted information from the Internet; that half or more of their classes involved sitting and completing worksheets while the teacher read a newspaper or a novel or surfed the web. I’m no advocate of union busting, but I think it is necessary for the teachers unions to take responsibility for the performance of their members and to terminate this policy of protectionism. They are responsible for keeping bad teachers in the classrooms, they are responsible for the “rubber rooms” and they have been adversarial with regard to reform efforts… even when the reforms were proposed by their own members.
This review has some valid criticisms for Waiting for Superman, but the admonition that the documentary did not display the worst, most crime-ridden and dysfunctional households misses the point. The role of parental absence and dysfunction and the connection to poverty is well known and another topic of discussion. But Waiting for Superman is about the role of schools and how they are letting down the students and families that are functional, that are making an effort. We need a dialogue about how to assess performance in children, and we should be fair to teachers with regard to the placing of responsibility for student failure. However, when teachers and teacher organizations are acting in a way that is clearly destructive to the educational process, we need activists and journalists to investigate and raise the issue.
Charles Overstreet, PhD
Fort Worth, TX
Feb 21 2011 - 5:12pm