example of the type of discord that dominates the education reform
debate. Everyone wants it their way, because their way is right, and no
one wants to listen to or consider the other side’s viewpoint.
This same sense of divisiveness and hostility characterized the
various reactions to the documentary Waiting for Superman. The 2010
documentary by award-winning director Davis Guggenheim follows
five students as they attempt to gain admission into a thriving charter
school. The film heavily criticizes the American public school system,
and reactions to it have been both positive and negative. The film
gained critical acclaim, winning the Audience Award for best
documentary at the Sundance Film Festival and Best Documentary
Feature at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards. The film received praise
from a variety of individuals, including Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, and
school-reformer superstar Joel Klein, who called it a “terrific film”
(Klein- Huffington Post). Many advocates of school reform believed
this movie would be a game changer.
Not everyone felt as positively toward the film, however. Randi
Weingarten said, “the film was powerful but misleading” (Ripley).
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis called the reforms
proposed by Waiting for Superman “terrorism” (Resmovits). Much of the
criticism of Waiting for Superman stems from the assumption that it is a
“pro-charter” film. Many were enraged by the documentary, feeling that
it “proposes” charter schools as the solution to fixing the failing
education system while the documentary downplays research showing
that charter schools to not have measurable learning outcomes that are
better than traditional public schools.
This pro-charter takeaway was just what director Guggenheim
feared, worrying that the film would be perceived as siding with charter
schools, though that was not what he intended. In an interview with
New York Magazine, Guggenheim voiced this concern, “I’m
scared…that the movie will be misperceived as a pro-charter, anti-
union piece. The movie isn’t anti-union; it’s pro-kids…the movie is not
pro-chater” (Heilemann). This perceived pro-charter message
dominated much of the conversation surrounding the film, however,
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