Waiting for Superman

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The documentary, Waiting for Superman, follows the lives of five young children who are given a chance to escape their failing public schools and try for an educational future. They are placed into the schooling lottery to attend charter schools in their neighborhoods (or in some cases, a few towns away.) The documentary shines a light on the failure of public schools, and implies that charter schools are the only possibility for children who want a quality education. One thing I noticed about this film is that it blames a lot of the issues regarding schooling on teachers, when in fact many problems are out of their control.

One part of this documentary that stood out to me most was the “Dance of the Lemons.” (43:30) I had never heard of this term before and when I learned what it meant, I was unsure and skeptical of the whole process. Basically, every school has a handful of “bad teachers” who principals want to get rid of, but according to the teachers union, these teachers cannot merely be fired. Schools and headmasters get together and in essence swap out their bad teachers and move them around to other schools in hopes that they wind up with a better “bad” teacher than before.  As the movie puts it, they want to “take their lemons and make lemonade.”44:32) The film makers are trying to convey through this, that the goal of the schools is to keep education happening, keep children learning, keep teachers teaching, and to make money.

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(Dance of the Lemons)

This is an important issue because schools are recycling bad teachers, and placing them in classrooms where children will continue learning from said bad teachers. This process hurts children, especially those in already failing schools, with already poor grades. The documentary featured many statistics about schools, and one that shocked me was that in Washington DC, our nations capital, only 12% of either graders are proficient in reading. It is a startling static to even believe to be true. How can it be that children who are soon entering high school are not educated well enough to read at their own grade level? Perhaps it goes back to the dance of the lemons, and the idea of implementing poor teachers into classrooms simply because the union says that must be done.

We hear a lot about these “bad” teachers in this film, and see the blame for the failing public schools fall on their shoulders. However, we never actually hear from these teachers on why the schools they are at are failing. Hearing their point of views could’ve been helpful in hearing the other side of the problem. I also noticed that they failed to talk about the many good teachers that enlighten children across the nation daily. These individuals also went unnoticed here, and their voices went unheard. This is one of the many “holes” I noticed in the documentary.


Guggenheim, Davis. Waiting for “Superman.” 2010. Film.