Sunday, September 26, 2010

Waiting for or Protesting Superman

Don't worry Super Grover, we'll get you
into a charter school!
A lot of teachers are feeling frustrated and angry about the new movie "Waiting for Superman."  It's true that this film does not give a holistic picture of public education.  Instead it focuses on the stories of five children who are likely going to attend five under funded, understaffed, and unsuccessful schools, and their hopes to win a lottery that will allow them to enroll in a charter school that is having a lot more success.  Frankly, I am neither shocked or angry at the narrow scope of the film.  In my minds, what we have here is a film adaptation of Jonathan Kozol's excellent book, Savage Inequalities, updated to include the modern charter-school movement.

I work in a public school similar to the ones portrayed as failing in this film.  Nearly half of our incoming freshmen will still be there senior year.  Those remaining seniors, will most likely graduate and many of them will start college.  However, most of our college goers will be enrolling in community colleges rather than four-year institutions, and many of them will not graduate.

What "Waiting for Superman" wouldn't show you about my school are the dozens and dozens of teachers, parents, students, community members, and administrators trying to make our school better.  What "Waiting for Superman" doesn't show you is the patchwork of quality that makes up the charter-school movement.  Some charter schools, like some public schools, are excellent.  Some charter schools, like some public schools are not serving their communities nearly well enough.  Most charter schools, like most public schools, are somewhere in the middle.

I wish my colleagues would stop expressing so must vitriol about this film and acknowledge it for what it is, a narrow portrait.  I think we are overly caught up in the Shame/Blame dynamic.  Too many of us seem to think that we cannot allow any criticism of public schools or public school teachers.  Perhaps we think that if we acknowledge some of our problems and failings then we should feel ashamed of ourselves.  Since we cannot accept the shame, many of us choose instead to blame others: Parents don't care about their children's education; politicians wont fund schools properly; kids are impossible these days; reformers and principals just want to blame teachers.

Don't let the pundits shame you!  One of tactics of some of these pundits right now is to shame teachers into working even longer hours and donating even more time, energy and money that we have been.

I am sure that you are like me: that you average 10+ hour days; that you think of lessons at night and on the weekend and are suddenly working some more; that when your kids need something and the school wont buy it, you do.

Teachers working just a little bit more is not a solution.  When Geoffrey Canada commented on Oprah that he couldn't get the teachers to "work just one more hour," he neglected the fact that this would mean now working 11+ hours a day for most teachers.

One of our BIG challenges is not to accept the Shame and not to transfer the Blame onto children, parents, even administrators, politicians and pundits.

Instead, we have to clearly name the Shame-Blame dynamic for what it is, discuss how this dynamic is neither helpful nor productive.  Instead, we should focus our energies toward ways we can rebuild trust across these divides and we should put our energies toward imagining what a well-functioning public school system should look like and begin taking steps to get us from here to there.

No comments: