"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Monday, September 27, 2010

Wrong "Superman"

A few years ago, someone wanted Nicholas Cage to play Superman. Would you believe that? Would you believe Nicholas Cage was Superman? Not very convincing.

Evidently, the producers of Waiting for Superman haven't made a convincing case either. I wrote a while back about the anticipation of this film. Now that it's here, it seems that it has built its argument about school reform around a bag of discredited and failed ideas which are described in this piece appearing on the Washington Post's education web page.

To give you an idea, here are the bold headings in the story:

*Waiting for Superman says that lack of money is not the problem in education.

*Waiting for Superman implies that standardized testing is a reasonable way to assess student progress.

*Waiting for Superman ignores overall problems of poverty.

*Waiting for Superman says teachers’ unions are the problem.

[Executive Summary - the school systems the film touts as successful are unionized with tenure.]

*Waiting for Superman says teacher education is useless.

*Waiting for Superman decries tenure as a drag on teacher improvement.

*Waiting for Superman says charter schools allow choice and better educational innovation.

*Waiting for Superman glorifies lotteries for admission to highly selective and subsidized charter schools as evidence of the need for more of them.

[Executive Summary - Admission to the good life in America should be distributed by chance. Forget about opportunity for everyone.]

*Waiting for Superman says competition is the best way to improve learning.

*Waiting for Superman says good teachers are key to successful education. We agree. But Waiting for Superman only contributes to the teacher-bashing culture which discourages talented college graduates from considering teaching and drives people out of the profession.

*Waiting for Superman says “we’re not producing large numbers of scientists and doctors in this country anymore. . . This means we are not only less educated, but also less economically competitive.”

[Executive Summary - It’s the market, and the disproportionately high salaries paid to finance specialists, that is misdirecting human resources, not schools.]

*Waiting for Superman promotes a nutty theory of learning which claims that teaching is a matter of pouring information into children’s heads.

[I thought this had been proven wrong at least 30 years ago.]

*Waiting for Superman promotes the idea that we are in a dire war for US dominance in the world.

*Waiting for Superman says federal “Race to the Top” education funds are being focused to support students who are not being served in other ways.

[Just. Not. True.]

*Waiting for Superman suggests that teacher improvement is a matter of increased control and discipline over teachers.

*Waiting for Superman proposes a reform “solution” that exploits the feminization of the field of teaching; it proposes that teachers just need a few good men with hedge funds (plus D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee with a broom) to come to the rescue.

What a disappointment. Teachers and kids are going to have to keep waiting until the so-called grown-ups in charge realize that educational disparity is part of a systemic structural economic problem in our country, not something to be fixed with whiz-bang magic-wand solutions.

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