Why wait for Superman?
Of course, there is already buzz about Davis Guggenheim’s new film “Waiting for Superman”. Guggenheim’s recent Oprah appearance as “expert” on education was a perfectly timed PR move. I was already bothered by something that I’d read on the film, and over the week the grain of irritation grew by degrees. It occurred to me, after I had read Trip Gabriel’s Sunday New York Times piece on this one-sided film that I am really pretty annoyed by the social paternalist implication of the title. The title purportedly refers to a childhood memory recounted by an Harlem educator interviewed in the film, who once yearned for Superman to arrive and save the neighborhood’s problems. It also vexes me that Guggenheim, with his money and potential influence, decided to make a movie whose thesis underscores the failings of public education. Oh, yes, and allow this Spanish-speaking mama to quote him from the Times (and I will refrain from any Spanish groserías that I wish to include):
“The biggest problem is a lot of families’ first language is Spanish,” Mr. Guggenheim said. “People like us have sent their kids somewhere else. So we’re part of the problem.”
I’ll summarize this point. Rather than using his arguably potent voice to mobilize his community in support of the neighborhood school he admits to maneuvering past while dropping his kids off at private school, Guggenheim has decided instead to become an active member of the doom-and-gloom crowd. (Hmm, I think I’ll start calling them all that. Sabrina and I could design some t-shirts and paraphernalia!) It makes me wistful for the things that could be accomplished if parents who wanted quality schools close to home would invest in their local schools. If all of us desiring change in our neighborhood schools would assist, support and apply pressures to schools as needed. I recently had a conversation with another parent from my community who commented about detrimental effects caused by our school district’s policy of allowing families in the district to send their children to schools outside of their neighborhoods. This person said that the choice process has removed many of the natural advocates for a neighborhood school because parents with resources can now go and get their needs met elsewhere and don’t have to apply pressure to the school up the street. Those words from our conversation continue to resonate within me.
To return to my earlier remark about social paternalism, I also believe that empowerment engenders empowerment. I know that there are families who feel marginalized. I also believe that they need not be, that they must not be. There is a tipping point in which people see that others are speaking up and they feel that it is safe for them to do so as well. Consider this: The schools belong to all of us, perhaps especially to those of us with children attending them. In the still timely words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Don’t wait for Superman, be Superman! May it be so.