The plastic ball spins and tumbles inside the cage as someone turns the wheel until a slot pops and it rolls out. On it is a number which someone speaks into a microphone and far away in the packed hall a family jumps and screams, someone grabs a kid and tears flow. For that kid, the American Dream is still alive.
Waiting for Superman brings to life the failures and legacies of public education in America with this symbol: the charter school lottery that parents rely on to save their kids from their local public school. Through the eyes of Anthony, Francisco, Daisy, Emily and Bianca, we see potential fulfilled and dashed, talent and dreams laid waste to an inefficient and ineffective system.
My parents put me in a private school from middle school onward but I remember walking around schools in New Haven while researching my senior thesis. Charter schools like Common Ground were a vastly different place from Hamden High or other big public schools, and private schools like Cheshire Academy may as well have been on another planet.
We perhaps expect that all these different approaches to education still have a baseline, that even the worst school still gives an honest, hard-working kid a shot. But apparently that’s a myth – that to really have a shot at turning your world right side up you can’t leave it to our public schools anymore. Not with these inflexible unions and apathetic teachers, crumbling facilities and forgotten students.
Riding to the rescue are the superheroes, the Geoffrey Canadas, the Michelle Rhees, the idealistic college seniors signing up for TFA, the young affable, aggressive Mayor of Washington, D.C. who winds up losing his office. Calling for change is a lot easier than implementing it, as we’re all finding out.
The basis of a strong society is an education system that provides the skills and the knowledge to succeed in life whether you can get them from other sources or not. Increasingly, due to the failures of our public education system, we are left with a society where either you’re lucky enough to have the resources and support to be placed in the best possible circumstances, or you hope that ball has your number on it.