Waiting For Superman Prompts Discussion about Public School Education

November 09, 2010

"Waiting for Superman" Panel

It's an age-old adage that in times of trouble, a hero will always come in to save the day. Well, now our public schools and the futures of our children are in peril, and Superman still hasn't shown up. That's the premise of the latest David Guggenheim film, Waiting For Superman

The film follows five underserved students across America struggling to overcome the circumstances of their environments that brand them "unfit" for college and takes a deeper look into the school systems that are supposedly guiding them towards failure. The general opinion expressed by the film is that America's teachers are mostly to blame for the failure of so many students, and that the school system needs to be completely revamped. 

This idea sparked quite an interest among the Rollins community during a panel discussion on October 27. The panel consisted of two area elementary school principals and one representative of the local affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union who met with Rollins community members to discuss their opinions of Guggenheim's film and the overall direction of the American public school system. Initiated and mediated by Associate Professor of Education Giovanni Valiante, the panel was an interactive setting. 

“This film put public education at the forefront of the national debate, and I thought it important for Rollins to create a forum for public discourse,” said Valiante. “The aim of the forum was not only debate and discussion, but also education; we wanted the public to see not only the shortfalls of public education, but the positive things that teachers and administrators are doing. Waiting for Superman tells half the story, but the data tells another half: that American education is doing a lot of things very, very well.”

Approximately half of the participants shared the opinions expressed in the film and were very critical of school teachers, while the rest of the audience members expressed perhaps a more rational and realistic opinion; since "public schools" are in fact public, maybe some of the responsibility to ensure a future for our children actually falls on us. 

Many of our community members believe that it is time for us to take a look in the mirror and decide what's important to us and whether or not we actually want to get involved. While, of course, some of the responsibility to educate our children does in fact fall on teachers and administrators, there is a lot that they actually can't accomplish. Micki Meyer, Director of the Office of Community Engagement at Rollins College, believes that citizens are in charge of using their own individual skills to work with children and schools to make a difference in their educational experience. 

"When I saw the film, I viewed it as a call to action that as citizens. No matter our role we each have a responsibility to join with educators to deliver the future of education to our children," Meyer said. 

Meyer argues that society is often times self-centered in that people only focus on their own lives and don't think about the collective effect of their actions. She believes that so much of what is taught in the classroom can be negated or "un-taught" when students go home due to the harsh realities of life, lack of resources, and hierarchy of needs in the family unit. However, it is not fair for students to be victims of circumstance and unfairly place all blame on teachers in the public schools. Education and community renewal need to go hand-in-hand. Community members can fill the gaps by getting actively engaged in their local schools to enrich the lives of their children from an early age.  (Read Meyer’s op-ed, which appeared in the Orlando Sentinel.)

Scott Hewitt, associate professor of education and director of teacher education at Rollins College, shares the opinion that the enhancement of our public school system actually lies in the hands of the public. 

"We have a school system unlike any other school system in the world,” he said. “Where else could students with learning disabilities or someone whose first language isn't English receive equal educational opportunities as fully developed, native-speaking children? Public schools are all things to all students, and we don't give the system enough credit for that." 

Hewitt believes that the film did not give enough credit to the school system for the things that are working, though he does agree that the system is in need of some serious reforms. But how can one person make a difference? What can one person do that could possibly make any impact in the way a child learns or whether or not they feel valued enough to push through their education and make it to college? The answer is "more than anyone could ever imagine." 

A serious issue among communities nationwide is that people don't understand how they can get involved personally, so they just don't get involved at all. The Rollins community has been very successful in educating their students and making sure the students are actively involved in local schools such as Fern Creek Elementary and Grand Avenue Elementary. Both of these schools are located in Orlando's inner-city and are host to economically and historically underserved students.  Rollins students frequently serve as mentors and interns at these schools, volunteering services such as tutoring, working as teacher-assistants, helping at school events and just being there for the children. Other ways to protect the future of education are to write to your local school board to demand excellence and rewards for great teachers, write to the governor of your state to demand that all K-12 schools be held to the same Common Core Standards, get involved locally within your community and encourage others to do the same, donate to individual teachers for classroom supplies, volunteer and mentor, and educate yourself about the problems facing your own community. Hewitt expresses an opinion shared by many of his colleagues that "education is the fabric of our society, and it's being torn and shredded in all different directions. It's up to up as a collective community to sew it back together to secure the future of education for our children."

By Sarah Hartman (Class of 2011)

Office of Public Relations & Community Affairs
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