Waiting For Superman

Did you like going to school ? Ok, you don’t have to answer that. When I was young, school was the daily routine that happened whether I liked it or not and, for all intentions, I hated it. There were exceptionally few days when I would wake up in the morning and felt good about going to school. I liked that school put me and my friends in one place allowing us to have fun during short recesses but the fact that those few moments of enjoyment were interrupted by almost hour-long, mind numbing classes meant that the fun vs mind numbing-ness ratio was a negative million.The point of learning was lost and it was more like memorizing enough context-free statements to pass the exam with minimum marks so that one only gets mild to medium scolding from one’s parents. Sometime between standing on the bench for talking during the class and kneeling on the floor for not completing homework (again!) the basic goal of going to school became moot. I did not see that the time spent in the classroom were the hours to learn how to learn for the rest of my life.

As it is always the case, the adults were totally responsible for this. Studying was not fun and as a kid there was no reason to spend time on anything that is not fun. Very quickly, me and my friends along with many of my classmates worked out this simple equation: School equals Not Fun, and Not Fun equals Hate It and therefore, School equals Hate It. (You probably noticed already that the equation is flawed since I am equating items of different units, School being a place and Fun/Hate being emotion, but like I said earlier, I was a terrible student.)

I was a terrible student, but I did not drop out because –  this is actually the main reason – my parents would have killed me. Not metaphorically, but quite literally. For me, like many students in India, parents were the reason we went to school, stayed in school and finished school. But the story is different for lots of under privileged kids who came from poor and uneducated parents who work for meager wages everyday, those who did not see the value of a complete school education, those who didn’t have the impetus to keep their children in school. As much as the parents are to be blamed for taking their children out of the schools, the schools themselves must also bear responsibility for not motivating the students enough, for not using proper teaching techniques to reach the students and make sure they understand what they are taught instead of just focusing ont he exams. This is not the case of children failing the schools, but it is the school, its teachers and its administrators who fail the students by not paying attention to the kids’ needs.

The documentary ‘Waiting For Superman‘, which follows the lives of three kids at different rungs in the education ladder – early education and middle school shows the exact plight prevailing in the American public school system. The kids along with their parents are stuck with the limited choice of public schools that are available to them and these schools are what the administrators call “Dropout Factories” meaning a big percentage of students who go to these schools do not go to a four-year college and in many cases do not graduate school at all. This causes a huge drag in the local neighborhood, since without a college level education upward mobility is almost impossible. Not surprisingly these dropout factories are at the center of some of the poorest neighborhoods, but alarmingly enough, such schools are prevalent in almost every county in the US of A. The parents can’t afford to send their children to private schools, and are aware that the available public schools do nothing but destroy their kids chances of having a good education. Filling the gap are the relatively new establishments called Public Charter Schools which like public schools offer free education but is not bound by same rules as public schools, which allows the administrators to try different things to teach the students better, reward good teachers and mor importantly punish bad teachers. As you might expect in such schools, the demand is way more than the supply, resulting in a lottery which determines if a student can get into these much sought after schools. The title refers to the kids’ and the parents’ predicament as they wait for the bolt of lightning to decide their future.

The documentary makes an excellent case for strong administrators who can challenge and bring down the status quo. We have arrived at this stage not by chance, but through years of deliberate choices where the decisions did not take into account the lives and future of the school children which has a dramatic effect on the future of the country itself. Although the charter schools are not a cure-all, they point a direction that leads to a better education system that focuses on real learning for the children and expanding their minds for the challenging future they will eventually face.

Here is the full documentary Waiting For Superman in YouTube


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