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' educational system, I heard the cheering and clapping of concurrence from the audience. It left me with a sinking feeling 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 of the utmost importance in my home, and thus I took the ability to get an education for granted. Unlike me, the kids I sat with at the screening 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 the truth among their families and friends that these drop-outs are eight percent more likely to end up in jail and will earn 40 percent 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 the 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 hopeful children and their hard-working parents who are trying to obtain the basic American right to education. These five youths are merely examples of the millions of children who lack the means to break the ties that bind them to the "academic sinkholes" and "drop-out factories" 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 Michelle Rhee, the Washington, D.C. Chancellor of Public Schools, and Geoffrey Canada, the Harlem-born and Harvard-educated head of the 'Harlem Children's Zone.' Additionally, the movie demonstrates that, despite the challenges they face, some youth still have hope for a better life. Moreover, Guggenheim shows us a picture of a nation -- a nation that needs to assume responsibility for one of the most important attributes it has to offer: the idea that we all deserve a chance, we all are created equal and we all have the right to an education. The time to act is now, because we can no longer afford to be sitting around "Waiting for Superman."