OPINION: Waiting for Oscar

By David Lyell, L.A. Unified Teacher

imageAs we approach Oscar weekend, I want to take this opportunity to thank the Academy. Thank you, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences voters, for recognizing that the movie “Waiting For Superman” had about as close a connection to reality as Bill Gates does to the struggles of working class families.

Thanks to the monstrous marketing effort to reach Academy voters and the kindness of a cruel friend, I recently suffered through this fluff piece for free. My conclusion: I want my two hours back.

Here’s a brief synopsis.

Public school teachers: evil. Charter schools: good.

Charter school proponents: good. Public school proponents: evil.

Public school teachers: They just care about their jobs and not the children. Education Reformers Michelle Rhee, Steve Barr, and anyone who wants to operate a charter school, including your crazy
Uncle Buddy: good.

The solution: More charter schools, clips of old TV shows, soft music and slow-paced, soft-spoken patronizing narration.

The movie’s director Davis Guggenheim is an alumnus of Sidwell Friends School. Starting tuition for Lower School (they’re too smart to call it Elementary school) is $31,960. Optional bus transportation between Washington, DC and Bethesda, Maryland campuses costs $695 one-way and $995 round-trip. Lower School Aftercare (though optional) ranges from $1,500 to $5,500. So at the beginning of the movie, when Guggenheim drives past Westminster Elementary School in Venice and contemplates sending his kinds there, he’s probably really trying to decide whether to take his family to Milan or Rome for the weekend.

Guggenheim reportedly staged at least one scene, where a mother is touring Harlem’s Children Zone hopeful her child would be able to attend. The only problem–which viewers aren’t told–is she had already learned her child would not be attending the school. When Gugenheim was asked by a reporter about this, he defended the deception by saying that the scene is how she would have played it.

When a reporter asked if there were other scenes that had been staged, he replied, “None that I can think of.”

So when the film’s proponents criticize anyone who thinks the movie is one-sided, we all need to remember that Guggenheim apparently can’t even be bothered to recall how this movie was produced.

Charters started as a way to explore innovative teaching practices and they do have a place, but they should also not be promoted as the sole solution to the problems plaguing public education, as this movie would have us believe. They should not be given space to operate on already over-crowded, under-funded public school campuses, especially when school boards refuse to address the problems educators have been screaming about for decades.

Gates gave at least $2 million to the Oscar marketing push. It still wasn’t enough for voters to overlook the glaring deficiencies in this for-profit movie disingenuously marketed as being in the interest of the public good.

So as we enjoy the Academy Awards this weekend, let us be thankful for Academy members who attended public schools, developed solid critical thinking skills and gave voice to those talents the best way they knew how: they voted.

To read more of David’s work, please see his blog at www.davidlyell.blogspot.com.

More stories by David Lyell on Intersections South LA:
OPINION: A field report from the Public School Choice 2.0 Advisory Vote
OPINION: The School Board Election: What L.A Unified doesn’t want you to know
OPINION: Value-added assessments: has the data been cooked?

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

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