Sunday, September 26, 2010

Not Waiting for Superman

      Rethinking Schools has launched a new project, “NOT Waiting for Superman.” We could use your help and invite your participation.
As you may know, on September 24, the film Waiting for Superman will open in theaters in New York City and Los Angeles. Soon after, it will open in thousands of theaters across the country. The film, made by Davis Guggenheim who directed An Inconvenient Truth, is backed by a well-financed, sophisticated media campaign.
According to those who have seen the film, Waiting for Superman is “very sophisticated,” “emotionally engaging,”  “politically convincing to the uninformed,” and “contains powerful stories.” Politically it has been described as “anti-teacher union,” “anti-public education,” “pro-charter,” “promoting market solutions,” “anti-teacher,” and “promoting the Duncan/Rhee/Klein agenda.”
Rethinking Schools editor Stan Karp wrote this after viewing the film:
The message of the film is that public schools are failing because of bad teachers and their unions. The film's "solution," to the minimal extent it suggests one, is to replace them with "great" charter schools and teachers who have less power over their schools and classrooms.
This message is not just wrong. In the current political climate, it's toxic.
The film was made by the Academy-Award winning director of "An Inconvenient Truth," a documentary that helped awaken millions to the dangers of global warming. But this film misses the mark by light years. Instead of helping people understand the many problems schools face and what it will take to address them, it presents misleading information and simplistic "solutions" that will make it harder for those of us working to improve public education to succeed. We know first hand how urgently change is needed. But by siding with a corporate reform agenda of teacher bashing, union busting, test-based "accountability" and highly selective, privatized charters, the film pours gasoline on the public education bonfire started by No Child Left Behind and Race To the Top.

Rethinking Schools has never hesitated to criticize public schools. We do it in every issue. We've been working for over 25 years to bring social justice and racial equality to our classrooms, our schools, our districts—and our unions. We know many of you have been doing the same. But this film does not contain a single positive image of a non-charter public school or a teacher. Despite a lot of empty rhetoric about the importance of "great teachers," the disrespect the film displays to real teachers working on the ground in public schools today is stunning. Not one has a voice in the film. There are no public school parents working together to improve the schools their children attend. There are no engaged communities. There is no serious discussion of funding, poverty, race, testing or the long and sorry history of top-down bureaucratic reform failure.
It's as if someone made a film about global warming and did not mention cars, oil companies, or carbon dioxide.
The film has an undeniably powerful emotional impact, and the stories of the children and families it highlights are compelling to all of us. But the film uses these stories to promote an agenda that will hurt public schools and the communities that depend on them. It's time to speak up for ourselves, our students, and our schools. 
It is essential that supporters of public education—especially teachers—respond to the expected media frenzy bashing public education as a failure, attacking teachers and their unions, and promoting a corporate agenda of testing, charters, and privatization.
We recognize there is no way we can match the well-financed campaign to support and promote the film. However, given the current political environment, it would be a serious mistake for supporters of public education to be silent about the patently political uses of this film, and the surrounding media blitz and political spin.
To this end Rethinking Schools has started the “NOT Waiting for Superman” project and invites you to be part of it. Specifically we are looking for public school teachers, education advocates, and parent activists who are willing to write op-eds, letters, and reviews for their local media market (both print and online) that explain how many of us are not waiting for Superman, but are right now working hard to reform and improve our public schools. We also want to make clear that scapegoating “bad teachers” while ignoring the problems of poverty, underfunding, the misuse and overuse of standardized testing, and the top-down bureaucratic bullying that define too many reform efforts will not bring equity or excellence to our public schools.
As part of this project, Rethinking Schools will provide:
* editorial support for writing and preparing op-eds and other pieces
* systematic help placing pieces in local and national media outlets
* a NOT Waiting for Superman website that will provide a repository of all written pieces, a forum for activists and educators to talk back to the film, and resources for responding to the high profile media campaign planned for the film’s rollout.
We very much hope you will accept this invitation to participate in this effort. Please email and let us know whether you’re interested. Someone from Rethinking Schools will get back to you shortly with next steps. In the meantime, please visit which will take you to a Facebook site started by Rethinking Schools. (The actual website will be up in a few days.) We encourage you to  add your comments there and publicize this effort as we begin to build the campaign.
Bob Peterson
for Rethinking Schools
reprinted with permission.
Great new resource.
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