Thursday, March 1, 2012

Waiting for Superman: Part 1

Hey, remember that documentary about education that came out almost two years ago? Thanks to the wonders of Netflix Instant, I finally got around to watching it. I considered "live" blogging it, but that post would have looked something like this:

10:52 p.m.: Oh, cute kid!

10:54 p.m.: I'm sad

11:00 p.m.: Oh god, I can't do this. Too sad.

11:15 p.m.: This is so messed up!

11:29 p.m.: ARRRRGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!

etc. etc. etc.

So I decided not to do that. If you haven't already seen it, I highly recommend it. It's heartbreaking in so many ways. The film follows families living in areas with notoriously bad schools; many of the high schools are "drop out factories," meaning 40% or more of students do not graduate. It's distressing to see so many parents who want so much for their kids, who would do anything they could for them, but who are helpless when it comes to providing the education they want their children to have. All of the families in the film applied to charter schools in the area as "the only way" for their kids to stand a chance, but out of the 5 families only 2 of the children won the lottery for the schools of their choice. (We won't even delve into how messed up it is that a child literally has to win the lottery to get the education they want.) 

For me the saddest example was a little girl named Daisy. Her dad was out of work and her mom was working at a (implied) low-wage job. Daisy loves school. She is the student that all teachers want in their classes: bright, passionate, a voracious learner, positive attitude, motivated, I could go on and on. She's in elementary school, but she already found a college she wants to go to and wrote them a letter asking how to get accepted. She wants to be a doctor or a veterinarian when she grows up. Adorable, right? They interviewed Daisy's dad and he is so supportive of his daughter and says that she can do anything she puts her mind to. Then he mentions that he dropped out of school when he was young because his dad was laid off and the family needed money. Suddenly I saw Daisy's story dissolve into that pattern. What if economic issues force her to make the same decision for her family? It's a sad reality that sometimes parents just don't make enough money to make ends meet, and kids step in to fill some of that void. It's one of those things that I wish I could "fix," but it also feels very judgmental to say that it's "wrong." I think it's one instance of my cultural background making me short-sighted when I really have no idea what those circumstances are like or what I would do if roles were reversed. The point is, I truly hope that Daisy continues with school because she obviously loves it and has great plans for herself. Unfortunately she was one of the students who was not accepted into the charter school, so we'll see (or not?) what happens to her in the public middle school.

The other side of the documentary was superintendents and other administrators talking about their efforts and obstacles in trying to fix the system. However, that is a post for another day. (Note that "Part 1" is in the title, thus forcing me to eventually write a "Part 2.") Tomorrow is a conference for counseling grad students, and I am very excited to pretend to be a young professional for eight hours.