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Sunday 9 January 2011

Waiting for Superman

Went to see the movie ‘Waiting for Superman’  today and left the cinema angry, moved and determined. The film’s quiet hero, Geoffrey Canada, says in the first minute of the film that, ‘I cried the day my mom told me that Superman doesn’t exist.’ Point being that no-one else is going to come along and fix the problem of state schooling in America. We have to do it ourselves.
This is an infuriating movie filled with heart-breaking stories of failures and defects in the American system. Teachers, and in particular Teachers’ unions, are undoubtedly the villains of the piece as we follow the fortunes of five young kids hoping for a better future. What is clear is that the American public school system is a disaster. Teachers with ‘tenure’ – a job for life after two years of teaching regardless of competence it would seem – are seen reading newspapers in the classroom while kids do as they like; Unions blocking change in any form.
While the director sensitively deals with the five kids and their families, it seems that none of those involved in the system seemed to want to talk about the future of the kids. Red tape, endless admin, in-fighting and politics seems to ensure that more than half of all students in America are almost guaranteed to fail at school. A frightening thought.
However, it was the contrasts and comparisons with our own Scottish education system which were going through my mind as I watched. Have I seen the level of incompetence the American system puts up with? Never. We are all aware of the cynics and the tired and resentful but I am unaware of anyone who refuses to teach. I am wholly convinced that, in my school, there are hard-working teachers who care about what they do, as there undoubtedly are in America, something the film conspicuously failed to deal with beyond the KIPP schools.
Even so, the frustrations felt during the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence as management attempt to take control of a teaching profession they do not really trust will mean that it is bound to, if not fail, then fail to be what it could be. Too many managers are terrified of allowing Teachers to construct their own curriculum, a curriculum which could really change the lives of the kids we teach. And it is that vision of endless form filling and tut-tutting in an office somewhere which tells me that my vision of the future may not be the same as my managers.
It took an outsider, Michelle Rhee, to come into Washington DC and make some changes from the outside, someone who had no background in education but could see clearly what the problems were. She was met with almost complete public opposition. This, for me, highlighted the difficulty in dealing with education as a political football. The system is so deep rooted that it takes huge strides and huge decisions for anything to change. To do so seems to be an admission of past failures.
I’m writing this only a couple of hours since leaving the Cinema and perhaps tomorrow, after sleeping on it, I may change my thoughts. Blogging is, after all, instantaneous, I think, and should reflect feelings as much as well-thought out ideas. But I will return to school tomorrow more determined to stop “waiting for superman.’’ If I am unhappy with anything in school then I vow to do something about it myself instead of moaning from the sidelines. ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ as Ghandi said. And I finish with a quote which has been floating about the Blogosphere since the turn of the year, although I first came across it in Ewan McIntosh’s excellent Blog.

I will act now. I will act now. I will act now. Henceforth, I will repeat these words each hour, each day, everyday, until the words become as much a habit as my breathing, and the action which follows becomes as instinctive as the blinking of my eyelids. With these words I can condition my mind to perform every action necessary for my success. I will act now. I will repeat these words again and again and again. I will walk where failures fear to walk. I will work when failures seek rest. I will act now for now is all I have. Tomorrow is the day reserved for the labor of the lazy. I am not lazy. Tomorrow is the day when the failure will succeed. I am not a failure. I will act now. Success will not wait. If I delay, success will become wed to another and lost to me forever. This is the time. This is the place. I am the person. Og Mandino

Watch the trailer here:

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