Monday, September 27, 2010

Waiting For Superman: Waiting for America to become America for all children

In the tug-o-war between left and right, between union and management, between ideologues of different stripes all too often children become the rope. They become the rhetorical tool that people on either side of an argument use to argue their position. So you end up with a system that places accountability measures on schools, teachers and children while at the same time severely limiting their resources. The state of education in the State of California has been steadily declining since the passage of Prop 13 to the point that a system that once was the envy of the world is now a dysfunctional and horribly inequitable mess which has a racially skewed result. To be clear I’m not blaming Prop 13 for our educational problems, but rather an electorate that is more willing to fight for the interests of property owners than for the rights of all children for an equal education.

This should be no surprise as it simply follows the trends of this country. The rich get richer and the poor compete for what little resources are left. The well-to-do can afford expensive private schools ensuring that their progeny can take over their positions of power and influence. The balance of the population are relegated to a position of living off of the table scraps of the wealthy…and then are blamed for not being able to accomplish the near impossible. Our schools may be letting our kids down, but our society is letting our schools down. Children are not safe to walk to a school where they will not have the resources to learn effectively, taught by teachers who have to manage classrooms of 30-40 kids that enter at tremendously disparate levels of comprehension. This is partially the legacy of “No Child Left Behind”. It has left millions of children behind because it was an empty slogan so representative of our willingness in this country to get behind ideology but not worry about its repercussions on real human beings.

Enter the new documentary: "Waiting for Superman” to put a human face on this problem. Rhetoric and statistics disappear into the background when one witnesses the real human tragedy of a parent sitting in a hall watching for a lottery ball to drop in order to know if their kid will go to a school that will prepare her for college or one that will warehouse him for the streets and possible incarceration.

This exceptional piece of filmmaking has already created a tremendous amount of controversy and it only opened this past weekend. There will be much debate over teachers and unions and public schools vs. charter schools, and who is to blame. Entrenched interests will rush to defend their positions. The movie will no doubt be criticized for not offering enough comprehensive solutions, but is that the role of a documentary movie? We have to be careful that we don’t let a 90 minute film define the terms of the discussion. Let’s just let it do what it is intended to do: stimulate debate and inflame our desires to offer a better future for all children. The film does show us what is possible. It is up to us to all to stop “waiting for Superman” and engage in one of the most important debates of our lifetime. We need to get angry at what we see on the screen and then make that anger productive.

In an ironic twist, Superwoman Oprah Winfrey takes up the cause of “Waiting for Superman” and features Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg flying in like Superman to drop 100 million dollars on the Newark school system. While we heap praise on both of these wonderful actions (and appreciation for the spotlight that this puts on the problem), it is easy to lose sight of the millions of children who don’t get to go to the few schools who will benefit from these actions. It is a scary proposition that the well-being of the vast majority of the population is once again dependent upon handouts from the wealthy.  Every one of us needs to ask what we can do. Volunteer at a public school. Become a tutor. Better yet, become a mentor. Engage in the debate. Advocate for a more level playing field. Become active.

As mentors we realize how much power there is in simply paying attention to youth. So, when the youth of America see that we are debating and arguing over their future, even if we disagree, they may get a message that they do count after all. But if nothing comes of it, or if they see that we are cynically using them once again as the rope in our tug-o-wars about taxes and privilege and position, they will lose hope and we slip further into a culture of fear that continues to promote the interest of the few at the expense of the children of our future.



Tony LoRe
CEO/Founder Youth Mentoring Connection
Founder Boarding House Mentors


Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Tony. Good article. I'd add one more call to action. "BE A DONOR" and provide the dollars that make good mentoring programs possible in California and other states.

If we can't increase the dollars, and sustain them for many years, most mentoring programs won't have the manpower to manage and provide proper support to a new waive of well-intentioned mentors.

Tony said...

So true. People don't always get what a mentoring relationship will do to inspire a young person. School reform will be of little benefit to youth who don't have the desire to learn. Mentors are the number one way to create that desire...and programs need funding.

Anonymous said...

You are doing a great work Tony, Keep on keeping on.

Aliyu Solomon Barnabas.

Anonymous said...

You are doing a great work Tony, Keep on keeping on.

Aliyu Solomon Barnabas.