Waiting for “Superman” [Review]

I never seemed to have the time or patience to sit down and watch the documentary, but I had heard so much about this that I couldn’t let the opportunity slide by. So in true style, I think I just sat down and devoured this book in roughly 2 or so hours.

As someone who advocates for education quite strongly, I very much appreciated both the premise of the documentary as well as the essays in this Media Guide/Book. Each of the discussions, coming from very varied perspectives, was remarkably insightful into particulars of education. Upon my initial reflections, I was slightly dismayed by how much the authors of these essays still focused on test scores to measure the students, often comparing a great teacher to one who was able to raise the average scores by 20%. Can’t they see that that is not the true purpose of education?

But even though one of my primary goals is to move beyond the glut of standardized tests, the book does make sense with what it has. Getting rid of testing is a radical and impractical move. It doesn’t make sense for students who need a benchmark to work towards. It doesn’t make sense for educators who need a way to measure progress. While measuring by grades along will not do in the future, for the present I must concede that it is an effective way to learn how to teach.

One of my favorite pieces in this book was by Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the DC Public Schools, who shared her stories of how strong and effective teachers were able to make a real difference in the lives of students. That kind of personal learning not only engaged students, but also made their scores rise. My hypothesis is that these teachers did not “teach to the test”, but instead, the test scores were a natural effect of more students willing to learn. They grew to love the learning and see the test as something that they wanted to do well on, instead of a headache and a roadblock in their path.

Alternatively, the story of Jaime Escalante, written by Jay Matthews, was also extremely interesting. I had not previously anticipated that hatred of tests could actually be beneficial to learning! People like me tend to tout that, no, learning should be for the sake of learning, that perhaps colleges are not worth as much as we think they are, or that in this world of free information, sometimes schools can be a sham. But this is all in our idealized world. In reality, we have to work with what we have. We need to understand the tests and work around them! We need to realize that, for students who may have the same opportunity as ourselves, testing is pretty crucial to them. For first generation college-hopefuls, that degree can be the difference between a life filled with opportunities or one that is more set in concrete. We may hate the current system, but for those who are struggling within it, we need a way to save them right now.

Immediacy is a big problem, and acting on what we say to do is just as important as having those grandiose ideas. What Waiting for Superman really taught me is that every single person, every volunteer can change something for the better. Working together, we can put an end to that wait, because really, each of us have the potential to become super.

[Link to Goodreads]

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