Thursday, April 28, 2011

Day 210: "Waiting for 'Superman' " - A Screening & Discussion

"What is an education worth?" asked the organizers through the title of this evening's event. I laughed a little to myself at first, thinking, "Why does anyone even NEED to ask that question? Isn't it obvious? 'What is an education WORTH?' It is worth everything, of course!"

But then I wondered why they would bother to ask the question, and soon realized that I was once again thinking about that idyllic world I often hope for with much vigor, one in which everyone truly cares for the well-being of everyone else around him/her. It always hurts just that little bit every time someone or something brings me back down away from this notion to reality, to the fact that the American education system has been slowly crumbling over the decades and has failed and continues to fail its citizens in monumental proportions. Sadly, I almost expect it in places like Pakistan, a third-world developing country. But to find out the bitter truth that a nation that was once leading this entire world is now setting itself and its people up for social, economic, and political disaster (as if it hasn't already) by ignoring and exacerbating issues in its education system was shocking when I first realized it a few years back.

Back at a time when that "early 20s optimism" had me wholly enthralled, and Paulo Freire's theories and work entered my life like a passionate lover, enthusiasm for becoming a teacher exploded into a permanent drive toward entering the world of education reform. Five years later, with one year of teaching full-time in a comprehensive public high school in my notebook of learning, reality hits every day; and it makes me want to get back in the classroom more than ever.

What "Waiting for 'Superman'" does is reveal the fundamental, root causes of the failure of America's education system. And if you live here on this planet, you should care. The documentary loudly shouts out against teacher tenure and the extremely detrimental effects it has on our kids - it always seemed absurd to me that an ineffective teacher could not be fired...would you let an ineffective surgeon continue to practice? The core of this partly lies in the concept that still remains (especially within the South Asian community), that teaching is a job rather than a profession. If you find the definition for the two, you'll see that an education system and a national community that treat teaching as a "job" see it as a means to secure some sort of income for the adult; on the other hand, an education system and national community that treat teaching as a "profession" see it as a means through which educated adults continue to find and implement the most effective means of supporting the growth and well-being of their students.

It is this focus on students, on the children of our societies, that I appreciate the most about the issue tackled in "Waiting for 'Superman'," and what I am excited to hear about in Michelle Rhee's words today during a post-screening panel discussion at the UCLA Hammer Museum. Michelle Rhee is one of many leaders in true educational reform committed to eliminating ineffective teachers from the system and advocating for incentives to bring in more highly effective teachers, all for the purpose of supporting students' educational careers and futures. It is her focus on students rather than adults that resonated with me today, and while I know I may only have one year of teaching high school to support me, "Waiting for 'Superman'" and Rhee and that old optimism that just doesn't seem to die out all keep pushing me forward; I think of each of my students' faces and I want to be a part of fixing the busted system all the more. It will take time, and it will take a lot of effort on the part of a lot of people, but this documentary and movements like Rhee's "Students First" bring this nation closer to actual educational reform for our children by making the solution tangible.
Need your help! Want to hear an audio recording of the entire panel discussion? I'm not sure what the best site is to share such a file online - please let me know if you know of one asap and I'll embed it here!

1 comment:

  1. I believe tenure was put into place for a reason: to allow job security for good teachers. In an ideal world, the more experience one has, the better the teacher will be. Of course there are abuses to the system and there should be exceptions to the rule. However, I think if the whole nation gets rid of tenure, then the quality of candidates who will pursue the profession will decrease UNLESS the profession of teaching is elevated and the pay increases. . . Of course that leads us to the issue of where will the money come to finance that (since most public school teachers get paid from the taxes in the town in which they teach) and I have no idea.