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Waiting For Superman

USA 2010
Directed by
Davis Guggenheim
111 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Waiting For Superman

Synopsis: The parlous standard of public education in America is examined as we follow the hopes and aspirations of five young children, all of whom will be battling to get into one of the few public schools that are good enough to help them realise their dreams.

The topic of education reform may sound boring, but in fact Waiting For Superman tells the whole sad and sorry story in a very dynamic and engaging way.  Firstly it introduces us to five children, most from disadvantaged backgrounds: Anthony, a Washington DC fifth grader whose dad died of a drug overdose; Daisy, who aspires to be a nurse, a doctor or a veterinarian; Bianca, a kinder kid from Harlem, whose mother can barely afford any education for her; Francisco, a Hispanic kid whose mother is desperate for a decent education for her son’ and lastly, Emily, a Caucasian girl from Silicon Valley, where the local high school only turns out drop-outs.

Director Davis Guggenheim doesn’t shy away from the hard issues and questions. The director of An Inconvenient Truth (2006) was inspired one morning while driving his kids to a private school to ask what opportunities the kids at the local public school would have to get anywhere in life. And so he made this confronting and highly disturbing documentary. Disturbing because it exposes a system which is mired in bureaucratic nonsense, antiquated legislation, and hamstrung by teachers’ unions which put themselves before the needs of the students.

But there are glimmers of hope in the form of educational reformers like Geoffrey Canada, a former teacher who created the Harlem Children’s Zone, an area where high school and college graduation rates have skyrocketed, revealing that good schools can make a major impact even in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Many other inspirational reformers are shown in the film, admirable people who actually have ideas that have been proven to be able to fix the system.

The facts and figures the film throws at viewers are quite extraordinary; and at times the information becomes almost too much to grasp, but everything is grounded and made real by the wonderfully compassionate interviews with the children, and their parents who are trying so hard to secure their kids’ futures, recognising that education is in fact the only way out of their circumstances. Getting into the few available good public schools is achieved by the horrific method of a lottery – such are the few places available compared with the overwhelming demand. The scene of the lottery being drawn is actually very tense and emotional.

Waiting For Superman is a heartfelt plea for parents and communities to realise that the power to change things is within their hands. Fortunately, it is not directed in a bombastic Michael Moore style, and so it get us onside, accepting its vital premise that central to educational success are high expectations from both students and teachers as well as more classroom time.





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