5 Years Later and We Are Still Waiting for Superman

By Matthew Lynch

Recently I viewed the documentary, Waiting for Superman, for the umpteenth time, and I noted that almost 5 years after the film’s September 24, 2010 U. S. premiere, the American educational system is still not living up to its potential. Sure, education reform was the phrase on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but after a year most of the fervor and commitment to educational change that was initially exhibited has all but subsided.

The comparisons with other developed countries show that the strongest nation in the world is still falling behind academically. The cost per pupil in the U.S. has soared to five times the level in the 1950s, after adjusting for inflation. With this kind of money being pumped into the system, why are many our school systems of such a low caliber, and further falling behind?

Statistics and common sense born of observation tell us that the biggest crisis in our schools is finding ways to educate students in low-income areas. However, as Waiting for Superman illustrates, our educational problems are not limited to poverty-stricken areas alone. As Lesley Chilcott, producer of the Waiting for Superman put it, “the dirty little secret… is that middle- and upper-class communities are suffering as well. When we talk about U.S. students ranking twenty-fifth in math, we’re not just talking about underserved communities, we’re talking overall.” Yet, despite decades of knowing that these problems exist, little improvements are being made to the system itself. Of course, everyone seemingly wants to improve America’s education system; they just do not seem to know or agree on how to do it.

The American public must believe that educational reform is a top priority issue in these times of severe economic troubles. It is understandable that, in today’s economy, people are primarily concerned about their jobs and putting food on the table. Upgrading education, although important to most, can hold a low priority in the mind of the average American, who is mostly concerned with keeping a roof over their head. The paradox here is that this is precisely the time to make that investment into education. When times are tough in an economy such as ours, workers need to improve their skills to compete effectively in the local (and global) marketplace. The education system is where people turn to acquire these skills.

Furthermore, enhanced skills and technological talents are going to be desperately needed in the future as America continues to struggle towards sustaining a dynamic 21st century labor force. Production is not getting easier and simpler — in fact, it is just the opposite. Along the same lines, workers down the road will need to be able to adapt to technologies that are just now being developed. If American students and workers find themselves in an educational system that cannot fulfill these necessary, required functions because it is sub-par, not only will these individuals and their families find little success in an economy that has left them behind; it will cripple America’s competitiveness.

Waiting for Superman has been criticized as being against teacher’s unions, placing the blame too squarely on the shoulders of educators, and misrepresenting educational statistics. Nevertheless, the film shined a bright spotlight on the harsh reality of our educational system, showing the exodus of middle and upper class children from our public schools; the sadness of the lottery system; and the general hopelessness that some express about our educational system and its future.

One segment of Waiting for Superman illustrates American self-confidence through an image of kids doing daredevil bike stunts, and then crashing. This scene shows, in a metaphorical sense, that while our students seem to have confidence, many do not have the skills to actually succeed.

A year later, Waiting for Superman still serves as a stark reminder of just how bad our educational system has become, and just how ineffective most of our efforts at improving it have been. The American educational system has reached a turning point, a time when things seem at their most dire, and yet many appear to simply sit idly by “Waiting for Superman.

America needs to view this film as a public call to action, where each of us is summoned to be a Superman (or Superwoman, as the case may be), or at least to lend a hand in saving our educational system, perhaps without the flashy heroics and cape. Rather than waiting, we should strive towards getting every educator, educational leader, government official, parent, and citizen to educate themselves about the problems that exist in our educational system, and to work together to fix them.

What is most important is that we understand the deficiencies in our educational system, and strictly forbid placing blame — which rarely serves to encourage cooperation. Rather, we must demonstrate accountability for our situation and fulfill our responsibility to our children. Collectively, we must come together with an understanding that “Superman” is not coming to save our children, and it is up to us to work together to find innovative ways to rise to the challenge of fixing our education system.

The future must be planned for; now. It certainly will not be an overnight process. However, by taking positive, productive steps, one at a time, an enormous amount of ground can be covered in the coming years. If we simply work together, we can restore the U.S. educational system to its former preeminence, and give our children the bright futures they deserve in our great country and aboard. We must become the Super-citizens that we have been waiting for.

0 Replies to “5 Years Later and We Are Still Waiting for Superman”

  1. Education reforms are the problem. It is all of this experimentation that adversely affects our children, If we go back to the way things were in the 1950-1970s then the system did work for 3/4 of our children.

    The very reason for education has changed to things that are impossible. Instead of seeing what kind of a scholar, if any, the kids are, they are trying to get everyone to graduate high school, wrongly thinking that they will get better paying jobs just by virtue of their diploma. This is no longer true and has not been true for about 30 years now. The jobs are just not there.

    We are now trying to get everyone workforce and college ready. Only about 25% of the our population is ever fully ready for college and that is to be expected. College is not for most of us. Most of us are average student and not truly scholars as evidenced by only about 25% pass all 4 ACT test.
    It is ironic that we’ve always educated for college/workforce. That is, if you did well you in high school then you went to college, if not, then you went to work.

    Computers just make the jobs easier. You do not have to be a nerd in order to use a computer.

    The so-called skills, like Collaboration, we as human beings have done as a matter of fact. If cavemen did not use teamwork then we would not be here. We did not need school in order to teach kids/people this. I think that schools that claim to teach stuff that happens quite naturally and calling it education is wrong, pretentious, and a waste of time.

    Society coddles the kids too much. We worry more about their psyches than actually teaching the 3Rs. We will not allow them to fail. We give them trophies for just participating but not for winning. I’ve got to wonder about these kids as adults. They are going to expect help all of their lives. They will expect interventions or wonder where it is! They may never grow up to accept the fact they are not as smart as they were told they were. What’s going to happen to them then?

    Somewhere around 1/2 of kids that go to college flunk out! College is NOT a right. It is a reward for the true scholars among us. Places like Japan have a very high percentage of their kids graduate college because they make so hard to go to college in the first place. We have made it way too easy and then wonder why 1/2 fail.

    Also, we need to get employers OUT OF the education process. Once schools give the basics then the business folks need to train their employees to do their jobs or allow them time to learn, no matter what education level they achieve. The time to learn is called the Learning Curve. Whatever happened to that. Why is it we must ‘hit the floor running’?

    Schools should not be teaching fads and any particular technology is a fad. It will become obsolete in a hurry, as will most industry certifications. There is plenty of knowledge that will not change and this should be taught. We hand down knowledge so that future generations need not reinvent the wheel.

    College should be taught after high school and not during and instead of high school.
    I, for one, do not care about what 15 year olds know so I do not about the PISA.

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