I recently had the opportunity to view the documentary "Waiting for Superman" with hundreds of inspired, interested, and driven adolescents from the Youth Speaks Organization. As I watched this comprehensive, unsettling, and yet poignant look at the United States's educational system, I heard the cheering and clapping of concurrence from the audience. It left me with a pit in my stomach because this cross section of America's youth could relate to almost every sad and desperate scene on film. As a product of two high school teachers, education was always valued and of utmost importance in my home, and therefore, I took for granted getting an education. Unlike me, the kids who I sat among understood that in most areas in this country, education is NOT a right, but a privilege. They know that a teen drops out of high school every 26 seconds. They have also experienced among their families and friends that these drop outs are 8% more likely to end up in jail and will earn 40% on the dollar of a college graduate. This documentary was part of their story too.
The director, Davis Guggenheim, also known for his piece "An Inconvenient Truth," shares a gripping and thought-provoking story in this new film about the plight of this country's educational system. The dismal state of education, the bleak statistics, and the cumbersome politics surrounding any sort of solution is punctuated by a human element. The cost of apathy and denial are given faces and families in this film. We follow the stories of five inspiring, hopeful, and innocent children and their doting, hard working, and tireless parents who are trying to ascertain the basic American right of education. These five youths are merely examples of the millions of children who lack the means to shatter the molds that tie them to the "academic sinkholes" and "drop out factories" that they call their schools. Guggenheim illustrates this blatant injustice, and without moralizing or offering any concrete solutions, he evokes an unremitting desire to rectify the situation.
Guggenheim deconstructs the antiquated educational system, much like he did with our ostrich-like mindset about the environment in "An Inconvenient Truth," to enlighten us to the fact that when the system is broken, it must be fixed. He also shares with us the hope that exists among dedicated and talented teachers, parents, and individuals such as Washington DC chancellor of public schools, Michelle Rhee and Geoffrey Canada, the Harlem born and Harvard educated head of Harlem's Children Zone. Additionally, the movie demonstrates that some youth, despite their challenges, still have hope, excitement, and desire for a better life. Moreover, he shows us the hope of a nation -- a nation that needs to value one of the most important attributes that it has to offer: that we all deserve a chance, that we all are created equal, and that we all have the right to an education.
The devastating consequences of our inaction and this Social Darwinism survival of the fittest, or in this case, the richest, mentality, will have a destructive effect on children and their families. It will also have similar consequences on our nation as a whole. Meaning, in order to "fix" the problems that face our country and the world, such as poverty, global warming, and health care, we need an educated society. Although there are wonderful, caring, and hardworking teachers and there are parents who do their best to provide for their children, this nation's focal point needs to be put on the single most essential issue: educating our youth. It is our responsibility, and as Guggenheim illustrates so clearly, there is hope. The time to act is now, as we can't afford to be sitting around "Waiting for Superman."