Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Daily Planet

Where have I been? It's a good question, to which I have only inadequate answers.

I have not, however, been in Metropolis waiting for Superman. We all know I am not that naive. He ain't comin'.

Fortunately, though, I did get a chance to go to the documentary with my blogger friend, and as a special needs Mama, I just have to state the obvious: I don't know anyone in this community who believes Superman is coming to make schools the places that they should be to properly include all kids with special needs. Not Superman, not the government, not Oprah, not a miracle.

As a teacher, I say to you: Our public schools are broken. Our children are not. Our system is flawed, but our children are beautiful. We must do what we can for our kids, despite the fact that it's overwhelming, that there is no map, no clear destination. As a teacher I say to you that our children are more than just our future. They are right now. They need us. As a teacher, as a mother, as a voter, I am not sure what to do, but "nothing" is not going to cut it.

Now, in case you've recently been under kryptonite, Waiting for "Superman" is Davis Guggenheim's look at our public school system and how, among other things, a handful of heartbreaking families struggle to escape sure catastrophe (their local schools) by hoping to win the lottery that is the charter system. Having taught in public and private schools, and having observed charters, I wanted to see this film once I heard the buzz. I heard words like "depressing." I heard assessments like "beating up teachers." I heard "indictment of unions." I heard, "Public schools suck." I have a child in public school. I have a child in private school. I have an interest in them attending a nearby charter school in the future. I visited the first KIPP classroom in Texas while serving in Teach for America. I needed to see this film.

One of the film's protagonists explains his own realization that no Superman would come rescue the disaster public schools have become, and I believe that is true. The overall situation is dire, and it is worse than dire overall for kids who have physical, emotional, or developmental challenges.

But no film is perfect. Not even documentaries are completely objective. You can't tell the whole shebang of education in the length of a feature film. I appreciated this film and what it shared, I think it's something you should watch and discuss, but it is not an A to Z picture.

As lousy as the conditions are in schools today, as horrifying as the system is that gets me writing late night letters to the White House on their web site, what school really boils down to on a daily basis for most children is teachers. Good teachers make for good learning. I know good teachers. They aren't all in private schools. They aren't all in charter schools. There are teachers who are heroes. For many children, a teacher is as close as they will ever come to Superman. I don't want you to see this movie and think all teachers contribute negatively to the tragically unheroic system. I don't want anyone to believe teachers got us into this mess or refuse to get us out.

And the beautiful, heroic kids in this film have families that have their backs. I am deeply thankful for that. But that is not the story in every household. Want to know what systems are as torn, twisted, mangled and maimed as the school system? (No, I'm not talking about health care, but that was a good guess.) Families. Let's say Education Superman made schools stronger, healthier, cleaner, safer, more resourced, and well staffed. So then all our kids would get good educations, go to college, thrive? Even the ones who live with challenges like homelessness, domestic violence, illness, substance abuse, neglect? We'd need Family Superman, too, wouldn't we?

Schools have increasingly hard jobs in increasingly hard and complicated times. I don't have any answers, but I absolutely plan to keep asking questions. Why is the public school system broken? Why does government get it wrong over and over and over? How can we support teachers who make a difference? Where can we find the leadership we need? And why do we consistently fail our most vulnerable members of society? Are unions really the problem? Are charter schools really the answer? What about kids with special needs?

We don't need to find a Superman or Wonderwoman. We need a nation of them.


kim mccafferty said...

Wonderful post (from an educator's point-of-view!). And yes, we desperately need "Superman family" too. I really can't wait to see this!

shelley said...

Always so insightful. Thank you.

Elizabeth said...

Excellent review, and thank you so much for posting it!

Boy Wonder's Mom said...

yes yes what you said very very well.