Expect to see real American classrooms on the silver screen this fall. This could be a beautiful thing.
In the first major deal at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Paramount Vantage has picked up Waiting for Superman, an education documentary directed by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth). The movie's securing of a multi-million dollar distribution deal before its world premiere probably speaks to some eye-opening material on the celluloid.
I'm excited, and not just because the movie was partly filmed at my charter school in Washington, D.C. Authentic portrayals of classrooms are few and far between in the mass media. Too often the product leans dangerously on the teacher-as-messiah mythos (Freedom Writers) or bitter hopelessness (The Class). A dearth of nuanced, real perspectives on struggling students has enabled our national shrug toward useful steps to support them.
I will be first in line to see Waiting for Superman and I hope it jump-starts a serious national conversation follows on implementing better on-the-ground support for kids and teachers. I don't know how I'll feel about the content of the movie, but I know we need to start talking about this stuff. The current menu of reductive talking points (Damn unions! More charters! Pay for performance!) is utterly inadequate to address the widespread crisis of underachievement in American schools. Hollywood can deliver images and stories in a way that students, teachers, policy wonks, and bloggers never could.