The following letter by Stan Karp for the editors of the “Rethinking Schools” publication has been circulating in response to the message behind the recently released film “Waiting for Superman.”
The new film, Waiting for Superman, will draw media attention to public education across the country. Unfortunately, most of it will be negative. So we’ve started a project to talk back to the film and the message it promotes. We hope you will join us at NOTwaitingforsuperman.org.
The message of the film is that public schools are failing because of bad teachers and their unions. The film’s “solution,” to the minimal extent it suggests one, is to replace them with “great” charter schools and teachers who have less power over their schools and classrooms.
This message is not just wrong. In the current political climate, it’s toxic.
The film was made by the Academy Award winning director of An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary that helped awaken millions to the dangers of global warming. But this film misses the mark by light years. Instead of helping people understand the many problems schools face and what it will take to address them, it presents misleading information and simplistic “solutions” that will make it harder for those of us working to improve public education to succeed. We know first hand how urgently change is needed. But by siding with a corporate reform agenda of teacher bashing, union busting, test-based “accountability” and highly selective, privatized charters, the film pours gasoline on the public education bonfire started by No Child Left Behind and Race To the Top.
Rethinking Schools has never hesitated to criticize public schools. We do it in every issue. We’ve been working for over 25 years to bring social justice and racial equality to our classrooms, our schools, our districts—and our unions. We know many of you have been doing the same. But this film does not contain a single positive image of a non-charter public school or a teacher. Despite a lot of empty rhetoric about the importance of “great teachers,” the disrespect the film displays to real teachers working on the ground in public schools today is stunning. Not one has a voice in the film. There are no public school parents working together to improve the schools their children attend. There are no engaged communities. There is no serious discussion of funding, poverty, race, testing, or the long and sorry history of top-down bureaucratic reform failure.
It’s as if someone made a film about global warming and did not mention cars, oil companies, or carbon dioxide.
The film has an undeniably powerful emotional impact, and the stories of the children and families it highlights are compelling to all of us. But the film uses these stories to promote an agenda that will hurt public schools and the communities that depend on them. It’s time to speak up for ourselves, our students, and our schools.
for the editors of Rethinking Schools