Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Waiting for Superman DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Public Education Expose’ Arrives on DVD

Every other month or so, another documentary is released illustrating how America’s public schools are failing its inner-city students. The latest is Waiting for Superman, directed by Davis Guggenheim who has a knack for weaving statistics and bureaucrat-speak into a riveting drama replete with empathetic victims, altruistic heroes and a maniacal, power-hungry villain.
The movie opens with an explanation of the title by Geoffrey Canada. The dedicated children’s advocate reflects on growing up in the slums in the Bronx by recounting how heartbroken he was the day his mother explained to him that Superman wasn’t real. Why? Because it meant that he had to face the hard, cold truth that no one was coming to rescue him from the ghetto.
Fast-forward a generation after Canada received his Master’s degree in Education from Harvard University, and we find him back in his hometown wearing a cape as an academic superhero. For in his capacity as the CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), he presently presides over a trio of charter schools which have met with phenomenal success compared to the regular public schools in the ‘hood.
Here, Mr. Canada is portrayed as the leader of the life-saving cavalry, cast opposite an evil adversary in American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. She looks downright diabolical repeatedly defending the union in the face of shocking proof of decades of ongoing ineptitude.
Although incompetent members of other professions, like doctors (2%) and lawyers (1%), are apt to lose their licenses, fewer than 1 in 2500 teachers ever face firing. Guggenheim proceeds to show exactly how Weingarten and her minions have managed to maintain the status quo by forcing frustrated administrators to run a gauntlet of regulations designed to allow disciplinary proceedings to drag on for years.
The upshot, of course, is that thousands of the nation’s public schools have become dropout factories serving as feeders for the criminal justice system. The poorly-served students are the big losers, of course, and their desperate parents’ only hope for their offspring rests with admission to an excellent program like HCZ’s.
The tension mounts as the action telescopes tightly on the anguished faces of families praying that their kids’ names will be picked in the lottery. Otherwise, as we’ve been assured, each tyke’s potential is certain to be swallowed up by a sinkhole also known as their regular public school.
A heartbreaking expose’ laying the blame for the escalating dropout rate right at the feet of a greedy and selfish teachers’ union which could care less about educating the country’s kids.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for mature themes, mild epithets and smoking crude humor.
Running time: 111 Minutes
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Commentary by the director and the producer, a conversation with the director, deleted scenes, updates, the film’s title track by John Legend, and more.

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