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Documentary dissects schools, looks for super heroes

Everybody needs to see Waiting for "Superman."

Not because the movie does a perfect job of dissecting the problems in the American education system, and not because it offers the most tangible solutions.

No, everybody needs to see it because when it comes to education, we're standing at a pivotal crossroads. Our system has faltered. We've fallen behind the rest of the developed world, and to continue the trend threatens our standing in a global economy.

Equally important is the waste of human capital being yielded by our schools. High dropout rates, deficient graduates and ineffective teachers aren't just morally unacceptable, they're fiscally foolish.

The rallying cry should be education, education, education instead of jobs, jobs, jobs.

Waiting for "Superman," comes from a statement made by Harlem Success School leader Jeffrey Canada, who explained how he cried when he learned as a child there was no Superman because he longed for the super hero to come in and cure the ills of his ghetto neighborhood.

The inference is that we have an obligation to go beyond self-interests and help all children.

Directed and written by Davis Guggenheim (an Oscar winner for An Inconvenient Truth), the film weaves in the individual stories of four children trying to find their way in the education system, while chronicling the more disturbing challenges facing teachers, parents and administrators.

Although he states that only one in five charter schools is producing "amazing results," Guggenheim does cast the charter schools featured in the film in a positive light.

At the same time, he pans government reform attempts, ridicules a system that frequently fails to embrace good practices and vilifies, in a heavy-handed manner, teachers unions and tenure.

But the strength of the film is playing on the emotional chords that make nearly every viewer stand and ask what he of she can do to make this better — now.

At a Friday morning screening staged by the Pinellas Education Foundation and the Helios Education Foundation, a select group of educators, elected officials and other interested parties expressed concern about the more pressing issues raised in the film and added other topics to the list.

The film's ability to elevate the discourse about education is why everyone needs to see Waiting for "Superman."

Our Tampa Bay school districts are faring better than some of the inner-city systems that drew Guggenheim's attention, but they're hardly free from flaws.

We must talk about crafting meaningful solutions for the most challenged schools, while replicating the best practices of the more successful schools.

Of course, if all you do is see the documentary and talk about it, you've failed.

It's not enough to see the plight of the film's struggling students and be outraged.

We need to gain a better grasp of the education philosophies of our political candidates, volunteer in the schools, hold districts more accountable and challenge the parents who choose (or don't know how) to be more engaged.

In short, we can help. As Helios Foundation CEO Paul Luna said, "There's a Superman in each and everyone of us."

The question is this: Do we have the courage to put on our capes and come to the rescue?

That's all I'm saying.

Documentary dissects schools, looks for super heroes 10/16/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 16, 2010 8:48pm]
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