Yesterday, I went to see “Waiting for Superman, with four colleagues. Going with my trusted colleagues is very important to this story, because I didn’t go alone. As I think back upon the film, I’m stuck by the isolation of everybody in it-parents, children, teachers, experts. They are all shown as talking heads. We are never shown people interacting together, much less problem solving together. We never see that the children highlighted in the film have friends. Everyone is alone to wrestle with the problem. I don’t know about you, but I’ve rarely tackled a problem in that way.
I learned at my family’s table to never try to solve a big problem by yourself. Always get help, never allow yourself to be isolated. Over and over again, I re-learned that lesson. In Ask the Right Question training, we explicitly teach that to parents: take an observer with whom you have strategized. And, of course, in community organizing, working together with your friends and neighbors is the core of the work. Problems are solved in community by people in relationship to each other.
So, what is “Waiting for Superman” telling us? It’s surely telling us that the problems are serious. As an education policy wonk, I found nothing new about the analysis of our educational weaknesses. But I heard lots of gasps in the theater around me as people saw the data: the US is 28th in the world in math??? Yep.
But, what to do? “Waiting for Superman” asks “you” to take action by going to their website. You, by yourself. It doesn’t ask you to turn to your neighbor and talk. It certainly doesn’t encourage you to talk to your elected school board members-the film has demonized them. It doesn’t tell you how to contact the community organizing groups. The film leaves you, all alone, waiting for Superman.
What to do? Today, I’m going to watch “A Community Concern,” a film about successful community organizing campaigns that have changed schools. Stay connected.