One of the most influential scenes in Waiting for Superman starts with Francisco’s mother- Maria- telling the camera, “As I grew up going to college and was exposed to more, only then did I realize how much I was cheated as a child” (Guggenheim 53:43). Maria’s quote epitomizes the issue of disparity and collapse within American public schools, which the movie intends on exploring further. The shot then cuts to Maria holding a photo. She is dressed in a graduation robe, accompanied by her mom and dad on either side of her (Guggenheim 53:55). The shot focuses on the picture for a solid 10 seconds or so as Maria tells the camera, “My dad, because of the diabetes… wasn’t able to move too much… that day, he danced a song with me” (54:02). This scene does an excellent job of conveying the subtle hypocrisy within the American education culture: we prize education as something that everyone should have, yet we are guilty in either providing an extremely poor one or not giving an individual the means to receive one.
Later in this scene, the filmmakers draw out how the emergence of charter and magnet schools are intended to give students and their families another choice for education(55:14). Maria’s son, Francisco, goes to a school that is not too great, so ideally-with the implementation of charter and magnet schools- he should be able to switch to a better public school. However, as the film points out, financial and geographical barriers play a large role in deterring families from applying to these special schools. As Kahlenberg and Potter write in their book, A Smarter Charter, “Some policy makers and educational reformers are skeptical about the possibility of creating schools that cater to the needs and desires of different backgrounds” (Kahlenberg and Potter, 124). For Francisco and Maria, a low-income family with a son who is struggling in reading, their needs will be different from a high-income student who is looking to excel in the arts or sciences. Kahlenberg and Potter provide several examples of public schools that attempt to meet the needs of everyone on the financial and educational spectrum, but are also quick to mention that there is an aggressive competitiveness behind applying for these schools. “Only one in five charter schools produce amazing results” (Guggenheim 56:03), which raises questions regarding if charter schools are worth the competitive application process. Overall, by exploring some alternatives to America’s public school education, the movie Waiting for Superman also reveals some underlying problems with the effects and integration of both charter and magnet schools in public education.
Guggenheim, Davis. Waiting for “Superman.” 2010. Film.
Kahlenberg, Richard D., and Halley Potter. A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education. New York: Teachers College, 2014. Print.