|Watch closely to see the problem.|
Seriously, the most bothersome aspect of this movie is the lip service paid to teachers. The director and narrator, Davis Guggenheim, talks about his favorite teacher and how important good teachers are. One DVD extra is basically an ad recruiting for teachers. ("Do something," they implore, as if pledging to see this movie is in and of itself "something.")
Yet, here's how the film characterizes teachers:
Jason Kamras won a national Teacher of the Year award in 2005. But instead of talking about what he's done to become the master teacher that all students need, Guggenheim asks Kamras about the process of teacher evaluation. Kamras describes a complex process for what is certainly a complex task, but Guggenheim is aghast and calls it a game. Kamras hems and haws and doesn't really explain anything. This film about what makes great education makes a teacher of the year look like an idiot.
|Where would Lisa Simpson be without her teacher?|
My point is that Guggenheim uses three-second examples from one random video (the introduction of this video was given by the Milwaukee superintendent himself, saying "They gave a camera to a student..." Who? You know, "They.") taken 20 years ago to show that teachers are lazy, students are out of control, and it's all tenure's fault. Because you just can't fire these awful teachers. But isn't this exactly what tenure and contracts are for? Is it really fair of the superintendent to fire a teacher based on what an out of context student video shows? It makes me extremely wary of what I say and do in my classroom, thinking that, without the protection of tenure contracts, I could be fired for what I may or may not have said or done just because some student claims something. This actually happened in my fair city last year. A teacher was fired because he used the N-word during a lesson about race relations. One student was offended, and the teacher was fired. The teacher taught at a (rather prestigious) private school and was considered a "master teacher." Yet he had no recourse because he had no tenure, no contract ensuring him due process.
So, does "Superman" elaborate on what makes a great teacher, since this is what every student needs and every charter school has them? Of course. There's one scene that explains how KIPP charter school founders Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg got ideas for their groundbreaking teaching practices. A math teacher they knew noticed (and here I quote the narration word for word because I can't really make a joke out of something already so awfully sincere that it's ridiculous to any teacher and should be to anyone with any education at all) "that her kids had trouble learning math terms, but could memorize a rap song. So she turned her multiplication tables into a song. For Levin and Feinberg, it was nothing short of a revelation."
...and pause for effect...
|The font of Best Practices.|
|This is where real learning occurs.|
If the statistics presented in this movie haven't manipulated you enough, the ending is designed to make you so angry at the state of education today that you'll do something crazy, like text a word to some number. (This is what you're asked to do while the credits roll; it's not explained what texting this word to this number will do. It's like someone asking you to follow his blog.) "Superman" tracks five children in their bid for acceptance into charter schools through the required lottery. In the end only one of the five children actually wins the lottery they must endure. The one accepted is the rich, white girl, while the three poor black children and one poor Hispanic girl don't get in. Guggenheim and the producers can't help that and, sure, it's sad that they don't get in.
What's sadder, though, is that they believe, the movie believes, the corporate reformers believe, they all want you to believe that this was the only hope, their Obi Won Kenobe. Now they will be subject to those awful public schools that don't know how to teach because of the unions and tenure and lazy teachers who care less about young minds than cashing their big, fat paychecks. (Now, there's an apropos Simpsons reference.)