The state of education

Or…the state and education. Talk about an inconvenient truth…

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary on global warming was all the media rage. His followup ‘Waiting for Superman’ was more of a brush fire, but some honest critics appreciated Davis Guggenheim’s critique of public education in America.

The U.S. is near the bottom of advanced countries in math and reading scores. We may not pass sleepless nights worrying about Finland, but that country’s kids get a world-class public-school education, and ours don’t. Our problems are bigger and more systemic: that, in the world’s richest nation, a seventh of our citizens live in poverty; that the majority of African Americans form a near perpetual underclass; that the nuclear family has detonated into pieces, leaving many children with only one parent, if that, to love, instruct and keep an eye on them; that the culture of instant gratification convinces kids that studying is a bore, while the infinitesimal chance of making millions as a pro athlete or a rap star is worth pursuing.

A key and central character in this documentary, from whom the title emerged in a boyhood story, is Harvard trained education reformer Geoffrey Canada, a captivating teacher/renegade who ties the whole narrative together in his life’s work and vision for reform. Here’s how it all came toegether…

Guggenheim, who won an Oscar for the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth, might not have made his new film if, while taking his own children to their private school in Los Angeles each morning, he hadn’t had to drive past several public schools that he and his wife had decided wouldn’t suitably prepare their kids. What he found in his two years of researching Waiting for “Superman” (with co-producer Lesley Chilcott) was that a lot of schools aren’t right for any kids — neither the dull ones who need gentle prods to move competently from K to 12, nor the underprivileged bright ones who could be the Geoffrey Canadas of the future, if only a good charter school had enough slots to accept them all.

But the concerns go deeper, as Joe Tremblay points out eloquently in his blog Sky View.

Statists are well aware that the control of information, especially with regard to a nation’s education, is but the necessary groundwork for the control of the nation itself. The Democratic Party has capitalized on this principle with great success in the latter part of the twentieth century…

Today, approximately 90 percent of America’schildren are being educated in public schools. With this expansion of federal control over education, can there be any doubt that the authority of parents and local communities over their children’s education have diminished in proportion?…

Let a child experience through the working day and through most days of the year that this or that is emphasized in its teaching, and what is so emphasized becomes, for it, and for all its life, the essential.” And the essential in public education today is not primarily academic development; nor is it inspiring a sense of patriotism or the training in virtue which is so necessary in a democracy.

That Time review says

Guggenheim wants to start conversations, debates, elevated arguments — to get people thinking about a crucial problem whose solution has eluded Presidents and parents for the past half-century.

It has at least done that, and in those conversations and debates are hopefully the seeds of the future of education, and therefore the future of the world.


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