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Waiting for ‘Superman’: One of the Most Persuasive Documentaries You Will See

Alternately heartbreaking and joyous, the film is a testament to the power of education and a critique of the adults who too often stand in the way.

by
Christian Toto

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October 17, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Conservatives are loathe to admit it, but director Davis Guggenheim’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth impacted the national dialogue on global warming.

And all Guggenheim had to work with was a PowerPoint presentation led by a charisma-challenged former vice president.

Now, Guggenheim has turned his attention to our failing public school systems, a staggering amount of raw material for the Oscar-winning director.

He leverages every factoid for a movie far more persuasive than Truth. It’s a film both sides of the ideological aisle can embrace if viewed with an open mind.

Waiting for ‘Superman,’ now playing in select cities to brisk ticket sales, sounds the alarm over what it describes as a thoroughly mismanaged school system. We see children praying for the chance to attend charter schools, their parents teary eyed at the thought of another year in the current system.

Meanwhile, the powerful teachers’ unions retain the status quo at all costs.

It’s alternately heartbreaking and joyous, a testament to the power of education and a critique of the adults who too often stand in the way.

Guggenheim takes a personal approach to his latest film, but not in that intrusive way Michael Moore brings to his polemics.

The liberal director describes the internal dialogue he had regarding public education as he drove his children to private school. Other progressives might rationalize their actions, much like Al Gore must do when buying another energy-gulping home. Instead, Guggenheim investigated why he bypassed the public school system and why so many parents don’t have a choice in the matter.

The documentary introduces us to five children eager to leave their current public schools. They’re sunny-faced lads brimming with optimism, but their guardians know better. ‘Superman’ inundates the audience with sobering stats on dropout and literacy rates, figures sure to alarm anyone with a child near school-age.

Educational reform has been tried in some form by every president over the last 30-plus years. Even when President George W. Bush reached across the aisle to work with Sen. Ted Kennedy on “No Child Left Behind” legislation the results disappointed.

The film heaps much of the blame on tenured teachers who can’t be fired without the schools jumping through endless bureaucratic hoops. Some schools put bad teachers on hiatus, a process that stretches on for months while they enjoy full salaries and benefits. In New York, that process costs the state $100 million annually, the film reports.

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