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Superman movie: reform, jihad or just a movie?

By John Published: September 29, 2010

The new "Waiting for Superman"  movie  is sparking lots of conversation about education reform. Here are some different takes on the film, by the same filmmaker, Davis Guggenheim, who made "An Inconvient Truth" about Al Gore's public presentations on global warming.

Here's Scott Stephens (former Cleveland Plain Dealer education reporter) writing for Catalyst Ohio:

I viewed previews of "Waiting for Superman" when Guggenheim spoke to education reporters last May at the Education Writers Association meeting in San Francisco. I have since talked with people whom I respect who have seen it. Some of them loved it, and some of them hated it.

I'll withhold judgment until I actually see the entire film. The previews I viewed seemed to be clearly pushing a pro-charter message. Most documentaries do push a point of view. One key difference: ''An Inconvenient Truth'' pushed science, while ''Waiting for 'Superman''' pushes a public policy agenda. That doesn't make it wrong. But it does make it different.

     Daniel Willingham, a cognitive scientist who has helped deflate  many an educational fad, warns about confusing entertaining caricatures with incisive analysis at the Washington Post's education blog, The Answer Sheet  here:
But if you're not well versed in education issues, you'll walk away remembering that there are some good guys out there trying to fix things, but that evil lady from New York named Wein-something-or-other is trying to stop them.

And you won't walk away thinking that instruction has anything to do with schooling. All we need to do are get the right structures in place, and ''great teachers'' will be forthcoming. Apparently, the classroom is a black box, and we needn't concern ourselves with its contents.

       That "evil lady from New York" would be Randi Weingarten, president of the American Teachers Federation. Her union's take on the movie is here.

       Here's charter school advocate Chester E. Finn, Jr.  reviewing the film on The Fordham Institute's Flypaper blog :

The education ''blob''mainly the teacher unions but also school boards, bureaucracies, etc.gets the drubbing that it richly deserves but rarely receives from such mainstream and corporate (and left-wing) sources. For a while, it even felt like the reformers were triumphing.

     Bob Somerby, a media critic and liberal who once taught school in Baltimore,  is particularly critical of education coverage in general. He sees a campaign of teacher-bashing in the movie and a media-driven crusade to echo its claims.  See his blog The Daily Howler for his take on the state of national education reporting (warning, salty language may offend).
Are teachers and teachers unions ''the problem?'' To anyone who grasps the sweep of the problem, this ugly notion is utterly stupid. And yet, it has ruled the airwaves in the past week as NBC and its sad cable arms have staged a cleansing witch hunt aimed at the deeply vile teachers who have ruined our children. (This started on Friday's Morning Joe, with one of the dumbest pundit discussion we have ever observed.) Presumably, teachers and unions are part of the problem, to the extent that our schools are failing. But the notion that teachers and unions are the problem comes straight from the gang in Salem Village, by way of a broader anti-union jihadmessaging which has driven our politics over the past forty years.



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