I’ll admit it: I had to struggle to watch the documentary film Waiting for “Superman” with an open mind.
I’ve had the privilege of working with many dedicated and intelligent educators, and if the systemic challenges of public education could be solved in a 90-minute film, the solutions would already have been found. Others have already picked holes in the arguments of the movie, so I am not going down that road.
What the movie did offer me was a snapshot of a group of educators who believe that all students can achieve at a high level. Geoffrey Canada, Michelle Rhee, and the teachers at the schools featured in the film came across as having a fundamental belief in their students’ capacities. As a result of this belief, they are willing to make changes to their practice in order to enable student success.
I found myself inspired by these educators—not because they want more charter schools or fundamentally changed unions, but because they are willing to look at their own practice rather than blaming students.
The makers of the movie (or at least the group that maintains the movie’s official website) see the Common Core as a solution to inequity in public education. If every student is taught the same rigorous curriculum, every student will have a chance. That’s a step in the right direction—but if teachers don’t believe that their students are capable of learning the objectives articulated in the Common Core, students will not succeed. If I don’t believe students will succeed anyway, why bother changing my professional practices—ones with which I am completely comfortable—in order to integrate the Mathematical Practice Standards of the Common Core?
I have never met an educator who didn’t care about kids. When we believe in a student’s capacity, great things happen because we are willing to make difficult changes to make them happen. The film gives great examples from charter schools, but other public schools (with the support of teachers’ unions) have similar stories of inspiration.
The education community is spending a great deal of time and money developing necessary standards, assessments, and instructional materials to support student achievement. But all of the time and money in the world can’t buy faith in our students—and without it, it seems the rest is wasted.