Logo Homeschool World ® Official Web Site of Practical Homeschooling Magazine Practical Homeschooling Magazine
Practical Homeschooling® :

Waiting for “Supermom”

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #96, 2010.

The documentary Waiting for Superman helps us appreciate the advantages of homeschooling.

   Pin It

Mary Pride

Do homeschoolers think we are “better” than public school parents? What, if anything, can homeschoolers do for children trapped in awful public schools?

Two weekends ago I attended the premiere showing of a documentary that points to the answers, though it never actually asks these specific questions.

Waiting for “Superman” starts with the haunting story of a young Geoffrey Canada. Mr. Canada has been CEO for two decades of the Harlem Children’s Zone, an organization whose purpose is to increase Harlem kids’ chances of graduating from high school and college. He tells the story of how he loved the comic book character Superman when he was a child—especially the way Superman would show up and rescue ordinary people from evil that they could not overcome on their own. When his mom explained that Superman was not real, young Geoffrey had the haunting realization that, in his own words, “No one was coming with the power to save us.”

From this beginning, the film’s writers shared how, ten years ago, they spent an entire year following idealistic new teachers around the classroom. They were making a documentary (it came out under the title The First Year) which they hoped would demonstrate that public schools could work.

Ten years later, it was time to choose a school for their own children. At this point, they realized their greatest parental fear was of sending their children to a failing school. Driving past three public schools to take a child to a private school, Davis Guggenheim (whose previous credits include Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth) wondered what happened to parents who didn’t have the finances to choose private education. In many cases, such parents make huge efforts to get their children into charter or magnet schools. But since the number of spots is always far less than the number of applicants, deserving children end up at the mercy of the lottery, placing “our children and their future in the hands of luck.”

To find out why so many public schools are failing, and what the chances are for parents and kids who realize how bad their local schools are, Waiting for “Superman” follows five children: Bianca and Francisco, both from the Bronx; Daisy from LA; Anthony from Washington, DC; and Emily from Silicon Valley. The children are an assortment of ages and ethnic backgrounds. What they all have in common is that, in their current schools, they are likely doomed to fail.

But Waiting for “Superman” goes beyond dramatic human interest. Through interviews, statistics, and even animations, Guggenheim zeroes in on exactly why these kids need to escape their schools.

This is an oddity in itself. As the film points out, “Until the 1970s, American public schools were the best in the world. Attending them was not an ordeal, but the single most formative experience in our lives.”

What went wrong?

Although Guggenheim doesn’t touch on every aspect of public education’s downfall (e.g., how local parental control has been eliminated or reduced, the Supreme Court’s takeover and mostly elimination of religious/moral instruction, and dumbed-down/politically correct curriculum), he does shine a spotlight on one big fat target:

“You can’t have a great school without great teachers.”

As this movie shows again and again, the last thing the public-school establishment wants is “great teachers.”

Here’s how it works:

  • First, it takes a new teacher about two years to even start being reasonably effective.
  • Teachers in the public schools are granted tenure (meaning: “I am now practically impossible to fire”) after two years, before it is actually possible to see if they are any good or not.
  • The teachers’ unions consistently fight every attempt to reward good teachers, or to get bad teachers out of the schools.
  • This results in absurdities such as New York City’s “Rubber Room,” where literally hundreds of teachers who are dangerous (e.g., sexually abusive) or incompetent are paid full salary to just sit in a room all day and leave students alone—sometimes for years.
  • It also results in principals playing what the movie calls “The Dance of the Lemons,” “The Turkey Trot,” and “Pass the Trash”—shuffling horrible teachers off to other schools while picking up a new crop of losers for their school

What this all means, in the insightful words of former D.C. Commissioner of Schools Michelle Rhee, is that, while unions claim they need more money and less accountability “for the children,” it’s “really about the adults.”

As former New York State Teacher of the Year John Gatto said decades ago, public schools are working exactly the way they are designed to work. The people in charge do not have good intentions. They know kids’ lives are being ruined and they just don’t care. For them, it’s all about:

  1. empire-building and money for unions and their members and
  2. the part Guggenheim leaves out—control over the hearts and minds of the rising generation.

As we follow Bianca, Francisco, Anthony, Daisy, and Emily through the movie, we can’t help rooting for them. These kids have such high hopes—and, if not accepted to the charter schools to which they have applied, so few chances. When, at the end, we go with them to the lotteries, I wasn’t the only one crying.

What I took away from this movie, though, was a bit different than Guggenheim’s call for public-school reform.

As I watched one sweet little girl, who reminded me so much of my own youngest daughter, have her hopes blasted, I wanted so strongly to reach through the screen and tell her parents, “You can homeschool! Let me put you in touch with your local support group. If you’re not able to homeschool for some reason, here’s how to start a University Model School with other parents. Check out the article about UMS on my website and ask your church to set aside a few rooms for the school. This particular charter school doesn’t have to be your only hope!”

Every homeschool family ought to watch Waiting for “Superman” with their children. At the very least, it will give your kids a whole new appreciation for the opportunities you’re providing them. But I hope it will do more than that. I’d like homeschool groups to watch the movie (either in the theater, or when it comes out on DVD) and start thinking about how we can reach out to the families who lose those public-school lotteries.

I’d like to leave you with this final thought, again quoted from the movie:

“Now that we know it’s possible to give every child a great education, what is our obligation to other people’s children?”

Was this article helpful to you?
Subscribe to Practical Homeschooling today, and you'll get this quality of information and encouragement five times per year, delivered to your door. To start, click on the link below that describes you:

USA Individual
USA Librarian (purchasing for a library)
Outside USA Individual
Outside USA Library

University of Nebraska High School University of Nebraska High School
Free Email Newsletter!
Sign up to receive our free email newsletter, and up to three special offers from homeschool providers every week.

Articles by Mary Pride

The Facts about Saxon Math

The Problems: Good and "Bad"

Betty Borrower and Barbara Blessing

Homeschool Goes High-Tech

CH****MAS or Christmas

Lets Get Wired

Abolish High School?

Homeschooling Invaded by Marketers

Learning Disabilities: Fact or Fiction?

Tribal Guys in Funny Hats

How to Fix the Health Care System

A Church That Works

How the World SHOULD Work

How to Succeed with Math

The Future of College

Soul Power

Give Yourself a "CLEP Scholarship"

The Money Club

Hanging Out with God

The Regents College Solution

Physical Excellence, Part 1: Getting Started

Taking Homeschooling Out of Your Home

Physical Excellence, Part 2: The Right Equipment

Good, Better, or Excellent?

Strong Against Temptation

Discover Your Child's Learning Style

Top Tips for Teaching Toddlers

Older Women Wanted

Laptop Homeschool

University Model Schools

Homeschooling in the Outdoors

Summer Learning Fun!

Homeschool Supplier of the Year

What We Can Learn from the Homeschooled 2002 National Geography Bee Winners

Montessori High

What's Our Next Step? The Future of Homeschooling

Don't Show Me the Money

Wonder Mom Does the Math

Sibling Revelry

What is Homeschooling?

The Joy of Chores

Big Screen Homeschool

How to Be Your Kids' Personal Guidance Counselor

Best Years of Our Lives

The Sound of Homeschool

Start a Community Newsletter

Aiming for Honors

Vacation All Year Long

Back to Homeschool

Annual Contests for Homeschoolers

Filmmaking for Kids, Part 1

Filmmaking for Kids, Part 2

Homeschoolers Win & Win & Win & Win

The Rules of High School are Changing

Raising an Officer

Easier by the Dozen

What Should We Teach Our Kids About Leadership?

How to Turn Fat Kids Into Healthy Kids

Satellite, Helicopter, or Backup

Bears in the House

Patriarchy, Meet Matriarchy

Getting Started in Homeschooling: The First Ten Steps

The STEM Sell

Soul Survivor: The Bethany Hamilton Story

Career Chase

The Best Retirement Plan Ever

I Remember Chris Klicka

Beware of This Dual-Credit TRAP

There’s Always More to Learn

College or Not? 31 Things You Need to Know

Now, More Than Ever

The Summer Road to Success

No More Best Friends?

Waiting for “Supermom”

On “Adultescence” and the Modesty Survey

College Ready . . . or Not

Popular Articles

Whole-Language Boondoggle

A Homeschooler Wins the Heisman

AP Courses At Home

Top Tips for Teaching Toddlers

Top Jobs for the College Graduate

The Benefits of Debate

Why the Internet will Never Replace Books

Getting Started in Homeschooling: The First Ten Steps

Phonics the Montessori Way

Discover Your Child's Learning Style

Teaching Blends

Patriarchy, Meet Matriarchy

I Was an Accelerated Child

How to Win the Geography Bee

Interview with John Taylor Gatto

Narration Beats Tests

Joyce Swann's Homeschool Tips

Bears in the House

Character Matters for Kids

Laptop Homeschool

The Charlotte Mason Method

Columbus and the Flat Earth...

The Benefits of Cursive Writing

Can Homeschoolers Participate In Public School Programs?

Getting Organized Part 1 - Tips & Tricks

Montessori Math

Getting Organized Part 3

The History of Public Education

The Equal Sign - Symbol, Name, Meaning

The Gift of a Mentor

How to "Bee" a Spelling Success

Teach Your Children to Work

A Reason for Reading

University Model Schools

Give Yourself a "CLEP Scholarship"

Montessori Language Arts at Home, Part 1

Classical Education

Who Needs the Prom?

Combining Work and Homeschool

What Does My Preschooler Need to Know?

What We Can Learn from the Homeschooled 2002 National Geography Bee Winners

Advanced Math: Trig, PreCalc, and more!

Myth of the Teenager

Saxon Math: Facts vs. Rumors

Start a Nature Notebook

The Charlotte Mason Approach to Poetry

Don't Give Up on Your Late Bloomers

Art Appreciation the Charlotte Mason Way

Critical Thinking and Logic

Shakespeare Camp

Terms of Use   Privacy Policy
Copyright ©1993-2021 Home Life, Inc.