“Waiting for Superman

I just finished watching “Waiting for Superman,” the recent documentary about American education, and I find myself frustrated as I think about what I saw.

Not that it wasn’t a good film: it was. It vividly depicted how adults look out for themselves instead of the children they teach, suggesting they are a major stumbling block for educational change. I don’t disagree with that; watching the film made me very glad I homeschooled my kids.

My frustration lies in two areas: first off, the families depicted in the film have put all their faith in public schools. They try to get their children into better schools; those that fail think their children’s futures are doomed. Those that succeed think all their worries are over and their children will be just fine. That faith in schools is misguided, and the fact that they are so sure of this is just plain frustrating to me because I know from experience that you can work with your own child and help them, whether after school or instead of school. So you do have options.

I think of the inner-city single mom I once met who worked as a police officer on the third shift, came home and slept a few hours and then taught her son during the day. She wouldn’t let him out of their apartment without her because their neighborhood was so dangerous. But she was determined to give him an education and keep him out of gangs. She didn’t look to schools to save her son. She took it upon herself. I wish the parents in “Waiting for Superman” would figure this out instead of relying on the school system to save their children.

My other frustration is with the common attitude displayed in the film (and most everywhere else these days) that the only way out of poverty is a college education. How well I know from my research for my latest book that only about 20% of the job openings predicted by the federal government for the next ten years will require a college degree. Telling every child that a college education is their ticket to success is just plain cruel. That myth is perpetuated in this film, and I hate to see that happening. It’s just not fair to children. Yes, some should go to college because they have an aptitude for higher learning and a desire to excel in a career area that requires a college diploma (doctor, lawyer, etc.) But to tell all children they must go? It’s outdated advice that will lead many of them to become overburdened with college debt and unable to find a decent-paying job to help them pay back what they owe.

So if you want to see a movie that will make it clear why you shouldn’t send your child to school, you’ll like this film. Otherwise, it will probably just make you sad….or frustrated like I am right now.

One more thing: while the makers of this film were more than willing to criticize lousy teachers, they also put good teachers on a pedestal. I get so tired of that attitude. Yes, good teachers are important. But so are good cops, and good doctors, and good cooks. A child’s success in life is aided by the influence of many people, not just teachers, and primarily their parents and others who love them. And even children whose parents are not exactly Parents of the Year can be positively influenced by others who are not their schoolteachers. Besides, it’s not that hard to teach kids to read, write and do math if you haven’t put them somewhere (like school) where their inborn desire to learn has been snuffed out.

8 thoughts on ““Waiting for Superman

  1. Barbara, I have a question about the “need” for college degrees. When you have written in the past that the govt’s studies show less need for college degrees, does that mean the DUTIES of the job will not require college training/education? If so, that rings true to what I’m seeing out there.

    But there’s also this reality that college degrees are set out as a requirement. For example, the job my husband is doing certainly does not require a college education. No how, no way! But the employer will not even look at a resume of someone with a high-school diploma or an Associates degree. Likewise, my son (who is graduating from college this December) is looking for full-time employment. For one job he’s interested in, and more than qualified for, a job which may or may not need a college education/training, the requirement is a Master’s, or at least concurrent enrollment in a Master’s program.

    My struggle right now is that the kids do not need college to do most of the jobs that are out there. But nevertheless, the employers won’t consider someone who doesn’t have a college degree. Same thing goes for promotions and raises — one employee may be far more qualified than his co-workers who are college-grads, but if you don’t have the Bachelor’s (or Master’s, as the case may be), you can’t even be considered for the promotion. It’s not right, but that doesn’t mean we can change the way it is. Just wondering what your perspective is on this.

  2. Susan, the BLS says that most of the areas with projected growth will require only an associates degree or a certificate in the area of expertise, so you’re talking one to two years of post-high school study at most.

    But I know exactly what you’re talking about re: employers requiring four-year degrees. The reason they do this is because they can. Thanks to our lousy economy, there are many, many people out there with degrees who must take whatever job they can find. So if you’re an employer who can get a degreed person for $10 an hour, why would you hire someone without one? After all, someone with a degree has shown dedication to a goal, ability to study, etc.

    My sister went to a seminar for owners of an inflatable playspace franchise and was told to ask for a degree when hiring employees to watch the kids on the inflatable play areas. Someone said, “But I’m only offering $7.50 an hour!” And she was told, “You can get people with degrees for $7.50 so go for it.” Sad, but true.

    As you pointed out, this is also true of jobs that once required bachelor’s degrees and now require master’s. When I look at the federal job site for work in my field, journalism, I see that they want you to have a bachelor’s just to schedule speeches; if the job actually includes writing, you must have a master’s. Crazy, huh?

    Bottom line, unless you can get a college education for free through the military, think hard about whether you want to spend a ton of money (or run up a ton of student loan debt) to get a piece of paper that will let you make $10 an hour. This can’t go on forever, but for now, it is what it is. :(

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  5. I think the title of the movie, Waiting for Superman denotes the passive attitude many have regarding their children’s education. You are dead on here, Barbara.

    As far as college is concerned, I have a friend who’s a dean in a University who says that college is the new high school. As a country, our educational standards have been so lowered as to require a college education for any job, as Susan has said.

    ‘Education’ is a poor god.

  6. Thanks for reviewing this one Barbara. I was considering seeing it, but if it is another that doesn’t consider homeschooling, maybe I’ll pass. It’s funny how people can have a viable option right in front of them but will not even consider it because they have been taught so well that only teachers can teach!

    Peace and Laughter!

  7. No, Cristina, it doesn’t promote homeschooling. It’s pretty much an argument for charter schools and school choice.

    One of the people in the movie was a very bright little Hispanic girl whose parents relied on the schools as their only hope; when she didn’t get into the charter school, she and her parents were devastated. The tone of the film regarding that incident was “All is lost.” I kept thinking, “Why don’t they take her to the public library? Haven’t they seen ‘Matilda’? You don’t have to force bright kids to learn!”

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