Monday, February 28, 2011


I had mentioned earlier that when the documentary "Waiting for Superman" was released and inexpensively available, I would watch it and give my opinion. Last weekend it was at a Redbox in front of the the drugstore in my neighborhood and I paid my dollar, got a piece of paper and pencil to take notes, and watched this talked about film.

The entire premise of the documentary is built into the title, "Waiting for Superman," and that children and the schools in our country are waiting for someone, anyone, some group, or any group, to take control of our country's school system that is failing to educate children, make it succeed, and be proclaimed a hero as they fly away into the sky faster than a speeding bullet. We are waiting. And waiting. And waiting so long we get the feeling Superman isn't going to arrive in time to save the school bus from careening off the road and over the cliff.

The documentary maintains that the main reason for this inability of anyone or any group to fix the educational system is that they are ultimately faced with the inability to fire lousy teachers. This inability to fire teachers who fail to challenge their students, raise the expectations for all of them, and teach all the children is one of the main reasons our school systems are failing. The bottom ten percent of the teachers who are failing to raise test scores are dragging the entire system down, and yet they can't be fired.

The blame is then placed on teachers' unions, the National Educators' Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) for fighting the firing of incompetent teachers, resisting any elimination of tenure which makes it difficult if not impossible to fire teachers, and providing legal protection for teachers who never show up on time, sit and read newspapers and magazines instead of leading a learning community, or worse, molest children.

Successful charter schools are shown holding lottery drawings to allow public school students stuck in failing schools in another neighborhood to be allowed enrollment. Those whose names are not drawn are relegated to the failing school where their child will supposedly fall between the cracks of a crumbling, bureaucratic educational structure, be left behind, and ultimately fail to secure a good job. The entire neighborhood will fail because the school fails the children. In addition, our country's future is in jeopardy because the the future workers of our country are not being educated properly by a school system that is a bureaucratic mess controlled by unions who concern themselves only with adult affairs.

I agree with many of the facts. Students in the United States are behind other countries in reading, math, and science. Teachers who fail to improve their students' test scores and have poor classroom management skills (behavior control), or worse, are rarely fired. Tenure, originally intended to protect the freedom of speech of professors at the university level has degenerated into guaranteed jobs for under performing educators.

The unions are to blame. I am in a state where the unions are very weak, and I have stated before the fact that I make a decent wage due to a politician, rather than a union standing up to one of them. The unions are weak, and people are terminated if something tragic happens in the classroom. Otherwise, incompetence abounds. John Stossel has done television specials on strong teachers' unions, and I agree with his disapproval.

I can assure you that my students' test scores have always been high, and I would be rewarded by accountability for teachers and salaries based on my students' performance on tests. The few teachers whose students' test scores are as high as mine get a congratulatory remark from me and an acknowledgment for their effort. Many administrators fail to do so. I know. It's not a part of their job description to "label" teachers as "good" or "bad." I have had principals compliment me, and I once had a principal who would have done anything to get rid of, did do anything, and succeeded. If this principal had any influence or power over my salary, I would have lost thousands and taken a decade to get it all back. But that's life, and that's something teachers' unions do not want their constituents to undergo.

I completely disagree with the documentary's philosophy. I find it appalling that not once, not one single time, did the documentary mention one factor that affects students learning: the student themselves. There was not one mention of the importance of desire, dedication, or determination on the part of a student. Not not once did they mention a child's attentiveness in class, their work habits, their behavior, or their ambition and goal to distract. Not once was the thoroughness of their work turned in ever mentioned. I never heard the words "work completed promptly and neatly." Their attendance, tardiness, or attitude toward learning was never discussed. The student was not even considered as a factor in the outcome of their grades. What a shame that our country has declined so far that we can't hold a student responsible for their own learning, and their accomplishments are supposedly determined by which school they attend. Poor Abraham Lincoln. Based on this documentary, he should never have become a lawyer. He should have become stuck working in that general store and walking miles to return change.

We are afraid to hold our children accountable. We have become so dysfunctional as a nation that we believe a child who gets an F was given that grade rather than earned it. I never gave a child an F. The child earned it, and that's all they earned.

There were some wonderful quotes, and a few dynamic individuals were interviewed who have dedicated their lives to making a change and improving the system. Otherwise, the documentary was just as I expected, selling consumers the philosophy of fear and decline.

I am reminded of the song on the old television show, "Hee Haw" :

"Gloom, Despair, and Agony on me! Ahh!
Deep, Dark Depression. Excessive Misery! Aghh!
If it weren't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all! Aww!
Gloom, Despair, and Agony on me!"

I don't want to hear it, especially from educators who are never, absolutely ever, willing to suggest that our students need to do at least one fourth of their homework. If you told them they were doing a quarter-ass job, they'd look at you and say, "Huh?"

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