The decline of public education stands out as a subject ripe for the lens of a documentary filmmaker. In Waiting for Superman, to be released by Paramount this fall, the producers do just that, pointing a critical eye to the plight of public education in America.
The film’s name comes from the idea of a child wishing to be rescued from a bad situation–in this case, from a school system that often leads to nowhere but failure. Other recent documentaries on this topic–such as The Heritage Foundation’s Let Me Rise, Teamworks Media’s The Street Stops Here, and the Moving Picture Institute’s The Cartel-highlight the failures of public schools and the subsequent negative consequences on low-income and disadvantaged children. Waiting for Superman reveals the gridlock created by school district bureaucracy, apathetic teachers, and teachers’ unions. As families across the country continue to fight for education reform, these documentaries give a face to those who are engaged in the day-to-day struggle.
According to The Washington Post:
Waiting for Superman tells the stories of children in several cities — Los Angeles, Harlem, Washington D.C. — interspersed with interviews of educators – [Michelle] Rhee, Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada, the founders of the KIPP charter school network — to demonstrate the appalling state of public schools in America…. What stays with you, though, are the faces of the children who are being cheated and the tears of their parents who want better for them. It is actually painful to watch these mothers and fathers and grandmothers lose out in lotteries for precious spots in charter schools.
In Waiting for Superman, Guggenheim addresses the stranglehold public sector unions have on K-12 education. The Washington Post writes:
The film…is harsh on teachers’ unions, board of education bureaucrats and politicians who give lip service to change.
A Sundance review captures the documentary’s essence:
Equal parts sickening, fascinating, and inspiring, Waiting for Superman (the title refers to a child’s dream of being rescued) takes firm aim at our national education system and asks a few simple but angry questions…Full of refreshingly honest insights and some powerfully upsetting statistics, the film seems angry and critical, but never hopeless. We’d like to think that every kid in America has his own fair shot at a strong education … but we know they don’t. Not really. Movies like Waiting for Superman would like to change that.
Co-authored by Virginia Walden Ford.