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July 25, 2011

Recommended Documentaries: Waiting For Superman, The Cartel, The Lottery

These documentaries expose the problems in education -- and the problems are mostly the teachers unions.

Waiting for Superman is a film by a liberal, who is forced to confront the fact that while he says he supports public education at dinner parties, nevertheless sends his kids to private schools, and would not even consider sending them to the hell-holes the public school system offers him.

It's a good film, with a strong emotional narrative. The film presents about eight kids who are all hoping to get out of the awful local schools they have been consigned to by literally winning "The Lottery" -- the lottery being the random-draw system set up to permit applicants to go to magnet schools and charter schools, the few functioning schools in the public school system.

But the teachers unions like to keep as few of those as possible, only grudgingly permitting a few to operate, to buy the public off as far as its demand for real, system-wide reform.

Thus, the teachers unions are sacrificing these children for the sake of blocking reform. The Lottery is just a sop to the public.

Waiting for Superman exposes this. You meet the kids, their parents (who really want a good education for their kids), and their dreams of just getting their name randomly pulled at the lottery.

The heartbreaking part is... well, most of the kids don't get picked in the lottery. So they're doomed.

Among the interesting tidbits in this film is something called "Dance of the Lemons." See, teachers can't be fired, pretty much, but each school can get rid of teachers who have caused scandals or who have become notorious for incompetence.

But all that happens is that all the schools nominate their "lemons" -- their bad teachers -- and pass them over to the next school, which itself passes its own lemons to the next, etc. Like the poker game "Pass the Trash."

The only thing a principle can do is hope the crap teachers he's getting rid of are slightly less bad than the crap teachers being sent to replace them.

I believe in this movie one reformer makes the statement that almost all the problems of bad teachers can be fixed, forever, by simply permitting the schools to fire their 6% most incompetent teachers.

But of course the unions won't permit that.

The Cartel is a similar documentary, but focusing on New Jersey, specifically. It's more of an overtly conservative tilting feature (which may be good or bad, depending on your politics) and doesn't have the emotional narrative arc that Waiting for Superman does. But also very good.

Finally, The Lottery. This one I didn't see, but it's about Harlem kids trying to win The Lottery again, this time, I think, for coveted preschool slots. It won all sorts of awards, and the opening line of the trailer is, "The problem is not the parents, the problem is not the students, the problem is a system that protects academic failure."

Now that I watch the trailer, I'm definitely going to watch this one.

All of these are available on Netfilx, and I think The Cartel and The Lottery are both available as streaming features. Or at least were.

I've wanted to mention these films for a long time. Thanks to joeindc44 for spurring me.

Below, a clip from Waiting for Superman -- "The Dance of the Lemons" sequence.

Remember, this is all for the children.

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posted by Ace at 02:56 PM

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