Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I have been musing a bit about the documentary WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, a downer of a film about problems in American education. Although there was much to like, it came off as a propaganda piece for charter schools (some of which are doing amazing things) and an attack on teacher unions. You fall in love with the kids who are striving to get into programs with limited enrollments and are crushed alongside them as their bids in the lotteries fall short (I've been there). Isn't it sad that our children have to rely on luck to get seats in good programs? (I purposely moved into a district with the best possible elementary school and high school for my boys). But a little part of you says that these kids are going to make it, no matter. They have the drive. And there is genuine criticism, accurately leveled, against the "failure factories." I've seen it, been subjected to it in my own education. I think my high school lost more than half of the kids who came in with me in the tenth grade. I had teachers who literally ignored me (because I did well), often to try and help students who need more attention. In senior-year English, for instance, I spent most of my time tutoring students who were years behind me, while I was denied entrance into an AP English class (for what reason, I still do not know), back when there were few AP classes. But I also know this film is biased. Many charter schools simply do not measure up to their promises. Many private schools are attempts by parents to keep their kids away from minorities. The filmmakers do not focus on children who are doomed by factors outside the classroom, and who are probably given more chances and opportunities by teachers than any other individuals in their lives. And I support unions, at least in their position of being an advocate for teachers and a protector against arbitrary decisions by political or bureaucratic overseers---who frankly have agendas that are not always to the benefit of children. I think unions would better serve their membership, however, if they took a reformed approach toward getting rid of poor teachers. I think union representation should be there to prevent unfair firings or dismissals, especially politically motivated ones, but unions would be a stronger force for good if they supported and implemented a system that better evaluated member-teachers and either removed or rehabilitated bad or lazy ones. That there are "holding tanks" of teachers who sit on their butts at full pay for multiple years is a crime (as well as is the system of shuttling poor teachers frm school to school). They should be utilized during their appeals as hall monitors, tutors---heck, even as janitors, if needed. Clerks, front-office people. . .something. But states and countries with strong unions also have the better school records, and comparing the American way against countries that have cradle-to-grave social systems (such as Japan, Finland, and China, with thier mandatory child-care, health, and food programs) is dishonest. We Americans don't have the conformist mentality of the asian students nor the nurturing socialistic attitude of the Europeans. We have to find a middle ground. And yes, money matters. Smaller classes, better assessment, structured learning, and other things are needed. I think that if all kids were forced to go to school together, meaning NO private education, the wealthy and influential would damn well make sure the whole system worked better. Teachers deserve good pay and better support, but have to consider their role as more than just getting a check (and I think most teachers want to save the world and do their best to do so).

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