It’s pretty hard to argue with Aiden’s criticism of Waiting for Superman. (As a nice complement, Diane Ravitch has written a less philosophical but very persuasive critique of the film’s claims about both what’s wrong with schools and how to fix it.)
Sitting here on November 4, however, two days after a major shift in who gets to make decisions about schools, I can’t help but feel that in the bigger debate, the one where we ask ourselves whether or not we care about poor kids, Guggenheim and Co. are on the same team we are. For all of the film’s oversimplifications and distortions, all of the magic bullet rhetoric we hate, all the union bashing, all the charter promoting (though to be honest this is not as bad as I expected it would be), and all the mania about test scores, at the end of the day the purpose of Waiting is to argue that there is something deeply, terribly wrong with the way we go about educating poor kids in this country, and that this is a problem worth losing sleep over. The average person is not going to walk out of the film thinking about unions or charters. They are going to walk out thinking: how in the world can a we live in a country where a lottery with a 1/20 chance of winning can determine whether a kid has a fair chance for a decent life? I want more people to be troubled by that. I want people to feel outraged about it.
In Pennsylvania, we are about to make some big decisions about how to address a massive budget shortfall. Raising taxes is likely out of the question, given that anti-tax politicians control all of state government. So we’re going to be talking about cuts. And there are going to be a lot of people calling for a drastic reduction in school funding. Since the state pays for a greater share of education in poor districts, these cuts harm places like Philadelphia the most. There is a real chance that our public education infrastructure is going to be gutted by people who frankly do not think educating poor kids is a priority. For all its many flaws, Waiting for Superman offers a counter argument to the view that we just can’t afford to worry about these kids right now.