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Waiting for Superman

"Waiting for Superman" | a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

Something needs to be said before launching into what's what with "Waiting for Superman." And that would be: we need to thank our lucky stars that there are people in America inclined to make documentaries like this superb film about the dreary state of America's public school system. David Guggenheim, who gave us "An Inconvenient Truth," should maybe receive a twenty-one-gun salute for his effort to save America's children and our country's place in the world.

The big "S"It's good to see George Reeves* again, even if his Superman suit is only in black and white. What "Waiting for Superman" reveals in the first few frames is that Superman really doesn't exist. Who knew?

That's what America is doing insofar as getting public education off life support and out of the ICU. But mild-mannered Clark Kent, in his Halloween costume, isn't coming to our rescue. Maybe Guggenheim and his more-than-important documentary will.

As commercial TV news programs have dropped the ball airing vital, hard-hitting information, we now rely on documentaries of this genre at the local cinema, many of them, though, out-of-balance, grinding a very large political ax. Some seem to be following in the footsteps of hate radio talk show hosts who've "entertainingly" appealed to just one side of an argument, the divisiveness of which the US can't afford much longer, if at all.

Guggenheim's "Superman" is as balanced in its presentation as any I've seen in a long time. That's good. Because the problem the doc takes on is something every citizen should... or, I should say... better take seriously.

The film does take a political swipe at the grammar of President George W. Bush... and Ronald Reagan's suggestion that the Department of Education be abolished. It also takes to task some items that shine a rather bright light on shortcomings of teachers' unions, not to mention the bureaucracies of the multitude of federal, state and local education entities that, as "Superman" indicates, really gum up the mission to teach and help US students excel, thus reaching, in much greater numbers, some sort of real success for themselves, and, in turn, the whole of the United States of America.

Social activist and CEO educator, Geoffrey Canada says in the film the tools are there that have proven poor students can be brought out of their curricular funk---if, if particular reforms are put in place. So did Michelle Rhee, the recently resigned Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. As such, she's been kicking ass in the nation's capital, raising the dust among administrators, parents, teachers and their unions. Apparently, a job no one can handle for too long.

Michelle Rhee

Michelle Rhee

Then, there are the children the documentary follows and their moms, mostly, who won't give up on their kids getting a better deal out of life. No acting here, this is the real stuff of struggling families in a world where, it seems, that only intelligence and quite a bit of money makes the difference whether or not one gets a shot at a good education.

Have you ever seen a young child with a parent waiting in a large crowd at a charter school to see if his or her lottery number will be called for acceptance to the boarding school which the wannabe student has already shown the smartz to attend, but can't afford? It's enough to make Congress legislate more money for public education, while at the same time cutting all the red tape and differences that exist among the myriad school board hoops to be jumped through, as well as the dead weight of unproductive teachers.

How can all that be done?

Well, "Waiting for Superman" has some news for you. But you've got to care about solving the problem in order for the film to affect you. If you don't care, maybe playing a video game will take your mind away like "Whiskey River" does for Willie Nelson.

I went to first grade in a neat, small, country public school that sat in the middle of a Central Kansas pasture. Kansas was considered by many to have the best public schools in America during the time I was grammar school age. My school was called Victor School. It was a good one, it had good teachers. It wasn't overcrowded. I learned a lot, and my teacher didn't let us kids doofus around. I was lucky. And I know it. What I didn't know, then, was how bad things for public education in my land would get by the time I made senior citizenhood.

One pithy question asked by a school administrator shown in the film is: "What will the result be if we don't do anything?"

Okay, people. UP, UP and AWAY! Today's Superman has the same sense of punctuality as did Samuel Beckett's Godot.

*See my review right here for the fairly recent film noir take on Mr. Reeves' real-life death in "Hollywoodland."

"Waiting for Superman" official site.

Now playing in select theaters.

See Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net,
Facebook.com/justin.playfair and Twitter.com/orwellingly.

Copyright © 2010, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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