Becoming Superman: How Americans Can Save the Nation’s Educational System
As referenced in the recent documentary, Waiting for Superman, the American educational system is not living up to it’s potential. Comparisons with other developed countries show that the strongest nation in the world is falling behind academically. Even with the tremendous changes taking place since No Child Left Behind was enacted, serious problems still exist. For example, the cost per pupil in the U.S. has soared to five times the level in the 1950s, after adjusting for inflation. With this kind of money being pumped into the system, why are our school systems in the state that they are? This is a common problem with any bureaucratic monopoly.
Statistics, and common sense born of observation, tell us that the biggest crisis in our schools is finding ways to educate students in low-income areas. However, as Waiting for Superman illustrates, our educational problems are not limited to poverty-stricken areas alone. As Lesley Chilcott, producer of the Waiting for Superman documentary put it, “The dirty little secret… is that middle- and upper-class communities are suffering as well. When we talk about U.S. students ranking twenty-fifth in math, we’re not just talking about underserved communities, we’re talking overall.” Yet, despite decades of knowing that these problems exist, little improvements are being made. Of course, everyone wants to improve our system; they just do not seem to know how to do it.
The American public must feel that educational reform is a top priority issue in these times of severe economic troubles. Today, people are concerned about their jobs and putting food on the table. Upgrading education, although theoretically important, can hold a low priority to the more pressing problems of keeping a roof over their heads. The paradox here is that this is precisely the time to make that investment into education. When times are tough, workers need to improve their skills to compete effectively in the marketplace. Education can provide those skills. Furthermore, those enhanced skills and improved technological talents are going to be desperately needed in the future as America continues to struggle in the 21st century labor force. Production is not getting easier and simpler. In fact, it is just the opposite. The skills needed in the world marketplace require a better education and improved, and more advanced abilities. Planning to turn out workers for the factories of today is a crucial element, but those same workers also need to be able to adapt to technologies that are just now being developed. Workers taught in an educational system that is subpar will not only hurt them and their families; it will cripple America’s competitiveness.
Educational reform will occur once we decide that enough is enough and make the commitment change happen no matter what it takes. When America realizes all children deserve a stellar education regardless of where they are from, whom their parents are, or what their socioeconomic status is, we will be able to reform our educational system. Americans have to stop treating minority students in underperforming urban environments like collateral damage. The disheartening reality is that America has billions of dollars to fight a two-front war, but cannot or will not properly educate its children. If a hostile country attacked America, it would take less than 24 hours for American troops to be mobilized into battle. However, we seem unable to mobilize a sea of educated teachers and administrators to wage war against academic mediocrity, which is a bigger threat to our national security than Iran or North Korea.
Waiting for Superman has been criticized as being against teachers unions, placing blame too squarely on the shoulders of educators, and misrepresenting educational statistics. However, the film also shined a bright spotlight on the harsh reality of our educational system, showing the exodus of middle and upper class children from our public schools, the sadness of the lottery system for what are perceived as the best schools, and the general hopelessness that some have about our educational system. One segment of Waiting for Superman illustrates American self-confidence through an image of kids doing daredevil bike stunts, and then crashing. This shows that while our students seem to have confidence, they do not have the skills to actually succeed. As a nation we rank behind more than 20 other developed countries when it comes to teaching math and science. Our own deep probing into our educational system has repeatedly revealed serious problems; yet, perhaps we did need such a documentary to bring it back to the forefront of people’s thoughts. Certainly, Waiting for Superman has served as a stark reminder of just how bad our educational system has become, and just how ineffective most of our efforts at improving it have been.
The American educational system has reached a turning point, a time when things seem at their most dire, and yet some simply sit idly by “Waiting for Superman.” What America needs is to view this film as a call to action, where each of us is called upon to be Superman, or at least to have a hand in saving our educational system, perhaps without the flashy heroics and cape. Rather than waiting, every educator, educational leader, government official, parent, and citizen needs to educate themselves about the problems that exist in our educational system. Each of us needs to understand the deficiencies in our educational system, and stop placing blame. Rather, we must come together with an understanding that “Superman” is not coming to save our children, and it is up to us to work together to find innovative ways to rise to the challenge of fixing our educational system. The future must be planned for now! It certainly will not be an overnight process; however, by taking steps one at a time, an enormous amount of ground can be covered in the coming years.