Anthony is a fifth-grader who lives in Washington, D.C. And all he wants is a good education. It’s striking to watch this young boy with braces talk about the type of education he wants for his own children in the documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman.'”
In the documentary, Davis Guggenheim, the Academy-Award winning director of “An Inconvenient Truth,” shines a light on the failing American public education system; he loads his film with facts, suspense and heart. Take Anthony, for example. His grandmother confides that if he doesn’t get into a better public school, she worries about what kind of bad activities he’ll get into. Anthony says he was already held back a grade when his father died. (Seriously, try to watch the “Anthony” clip without tearing up. I dare you.) All of his hopes are on a lottery system. If his bingo ball gets picked, Anthony will go to a “better” charter school; if it doesn’t, he’ll end up at public junior high school the Washington Post calls “an academic sink hole.”
In these clips, we’re also introduced to Daisy, a Los Angeles fifth-grader. Daisy has big ambitions: she wants to be a doctor, a nurse or a veterinarian when she grows up. For any of these occupations, Daisy is going to need great math skills. Problem is, she will be entering a middle school where only 13% of students graduate with a proficiency in math. That middle school feeds into one of the worst performing high schools in Los Angeles, where only three out of 100 students will graduate with the classes necessary to enter a 4-year college. The odds are stacked up against Daisy. But she, like Anthony, can enter a lottery system and hope to enroll in a better school.
We don’t find out whether Anthony and Daisy win their lotteries; the clips are certainly suspenseful and left this viewer wanting to know what happens to these kids.
Another clip showcases Michelle Rhee, the superintendent of D.C. public schools who readily admits, “Most of [the students] are getting a really crappy education right now … I don’t think they are; I know they are.” Since she started as superintendent, Rhee has closed 23 schools and fired a quarter of all principals. Adults may not love her, but she certainly is a champion for a better education for D.C.’s children.
The other two clips are filled with interesting facts about how far behind the U.S. is in education — in developed countries, we are 25th in math and 21st in science. During the recession, we also didn’t have enough qualified people to fill all of the high tech jobs, so many companies had to go halfway around the world to fill those spots.
These clips prove that “Waiting for ‘Superman'” must be intelligent, eye-opening, heartbreaking and inspirational, all rolled into one great documentary.
No need to wait for this film — “Waiting for Superman'” is already playing in limited theaters nationwide.
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