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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that while younger kids may not understand the complex problems presented in this documentary about the state of American schools, Waiting for "Superman" is a riveting watch for older tweens and up, especially those who may not be aware of what’s happening in schools besides theirs. It’s an enlightening -- albeit one-sided -- look at education in this country. Depending on what’s happening at tweens' and teens' own schools, this film (which is from the director of An Inconvenient Truth) may spur them, and you, to action.
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What's the story?
In WAITING FOR "SUPERMAN", An Inconvenient Truth filmmaker Davis Guggenheim probes another, perhaps more immediate, calamity: the crumbling American education system. Schools are falling apart; administrators are slow to institute to change; and those who do, like Washington, D.C., Chancellor Michelle Rhee, are thwarted by binding teacher union contracts that won’t allow them to fire incompetent teachers. And the students? They aren’t meeting standards: In New Jersey, only 40 percent are proficient in reading; in Connecticut, 35 percent; in the nation’s capital, a dismal 12 percent. But Geoffrey Canada and other charter school founders may hold one large piece to the puzzle.
Is it any good?
Knowledge is power, and the information that this sobering documentary imparts practically demands that viewers wake up and smell the chalk dust. Its message? Our country’s schools are failing our children because we're watching out for the adults in the education system and not the students it's meant to shape. Straightforward when other, lesser documentaries would have gone opaque and academic while still compassionate, the film is gutsy and opinionated in many eye-opening ways. You will be impelled to act by the time the credits roll.
The film does, however, gloss over many ills: It doesn’t address overcrowding and hardly discusses how budgetary challenges hinder calls for change. It’s also undermined by a black-and-white stance -- charter schools are the heroes; unions are the villains. But, oh the climax: Watching the families we’ve gotten to know throughout Waiting for "Superman" hear whether, well, Superman is finally swooping in and saving them from educational quicksand is almost too much to bear. When fifth-grader Anthony says he wants his kids to have more than what he has -- to get a great education -- expect your heart to break.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the premise of Waiting for "Superman" that failing schools lead to failing neighborhoods. Do you agree? Why?
Does this documentary approach its subject matter objectively, or does it have an opinion? Is it OK for a documentary to take a specific stance on the topic it's covering?
What resources do educators need to do their jobs more effectively?
- In theaters: September 24, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: February 15, 2011
- Director: Davis Guggenheim
- Studio: Paramount Vantage
- Genre: Documentary
- Character strengths: Communication, Perseverance
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some thematic material, mild language and incidental smoking
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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