Tonight, my wife and I decided to watch Guggenheim's documentary on the state of public schools, Waiting For Superman. As a public school teacher, I have mixed emotions and thoughts concerning this documentary. I need to preface by saying that this post might not show a state of organized thought. As I recall what I have seen, I am going to comment on what comes to mind (this is one of the things that I really like about blogs...it isn't a requirement to be a formal thought like a term paper). Here goes.
As I do when I watch any documentary, I go in knowing that there is an agenda being presented and there is bias. This means that there are going to be viewpoints and facts that are not factored into the equation. This is not to say that they were left out on purpose, they just were not mentioned.
Guggenheim paints a negative picture of teacher unions, namely NEA and AFT and the effects of their involvement in public education. Regarding teacher unions, they are necessary for keeping school districts and state legislatures accountable through contract negotiation and lobbying, but they unnecessarily protect teachers that have no business being a teacher.
It was said in the documentary that reformers now say that failing schools create failing communities. This would mean that the failing schools either existed before the communities did, or the failing schools turned successful communities in failing communities. How does a community not exist before a school does? How does a school change a community for worse? Every city in this country was created before any public school system was created. Do they think that public schools popped up in the middle of nowhere and then communities were created around those schools? I don't think it happened that way. What happens when crime starts to rise in a community? The community has ceased to do its part in keeping crime from happening. When a community starts to fail, everything that community is involved in starts to fail.
One of the points that was made in the film concerned the idea of opportunities. Every child does not have the same opportunities. Sure, they have the same opportunity to get an education, but they don't have the same opportunity as to where they get that education.
Now for my little blurb about China and India. I am tired of hearing about the United States being compared to China and India when it comes to test scores and education. This is like comparing apples to pineapples. Culturally, education is held in high esteem in China and India. In the United States, sure, it is held in high esteem among the wealthy, but not necessarily among the dwindling middle class and lower class. I do not know what a teacher gets paid in China or India, but I know for sure that teachers are not paid what they are worth because the teaching profession is not well-respected in the United States. For those that say that teachers are just babysitters during the day, then by golly, start paying us a babysitter's salary. Do the math. A teacher would be making six figures, maybe more. Also what is different in China and India...does every child go to school? No. Here is an interesting article dated January 20, 2011 (very recent), that I found that compares American education to Chinese education. We try to educate everybody. China, and I am sure India is the same, eventually educate the best of the best. When a country educates only the best of the best, OF COURSE math, reading, and science test scores are going to be better. The United States has a different culture and society than China and India. Part of culture and society is education. They can't be compared. That's like saying Michael Jordan was a better athlete than Walter Payton.
Okay. I think I am done. The only thing that I will, for sure, agree on with Guggenheim, is that our public education system has problems that need to be fixed. The problems are so meshed together with everything else that things won't change overnight. Education has to be an equally integrated relationship between the students, parents, teachers, and schools.
P.S. - I don't teach for the money. If my motivation was the salary, I wouldn't be teaching.