There are very few political issues that can unite conservatives and liberals. The political polarization has reached such an intractable state that it seems the two sides will never agree on solutions for society’s pressing problems. But occasionally the opposing ideologies can set aside differences and accomplish real, beneficial change. School choice may be the rare issue that forces each side to ignore political influence and do away with tired bromides in order to truly save the children. The new documentary “Waiting for Superman” perfectly exemplifies this fleeting moment of unity that can have a lasting impact.
It’s hard to know what to expect when an avowed liberal takes on the controversial issue of school choice. Director Davis Guggenheim is the director behind “An Inconvenient Truth,” the global warming film that lionized Al Gore. Guggenheim also directed the Barack Obama biographical film played at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and the Obama infomercial that aired on television during the 2008 presidential campaign. His liberal bona fides are stellar. So it’s only natural to anticipate a school choice documentary that defends the status quo and toes the party line blaming lack of funding for the woeful state of America’s government education system.
Prepare to be surprised.
In the opening moments of the film, Guggenheim freely admits that he betrays his liberal beliefs every day when he drives past three public schools on his way to drop off his children at their private school. His children’s education is so important, he’s unwilling to risk their future success on the abysmal education record of government schools. It’s a refreshingly honest admission and the rest of the film follows suit.
“Waiting for Superman” is an objective assessment of the deplorable state of modern American education and the culprits behind it. Both sides of the political spectrum can agree with the assessment; fingering culprits is the source of the political divide.
Amazingly, Guggenheim lays most of the blame at the doorstep of the teachers unions. He even mentions that they are among the largest political donors in the country and the recipients of over 90% of their political donations are Democrats.
The most compelling aspect of the film is not that it unmasks teachers unions, rather it’s the heart-wrenching stories of the five young students whose stories are interwoven throughout the film’s exploration of the school system. Personalizing the statistics thrown around in the political debate makes it much harder for those opposed to change to make any emotional appeal.