there’s a great line from planes, trains, and automobiles when neil page (martin) is trying to separate from del griffith (candy). he says “I’ve been thinking that when we put our heads together, we really…we’ve really gotten nowhere.” this is how i often feel about society. there is immense individual intelligence, but it seems that when we put more than a handful of minds together we get complete chaos, disrepair, inefficiency and utter failure. too many cooks in the kitchen, as the aphorism goes. systems as large as the financial system or the educational system have so many competing interests and so many layers of accountability and action that it becomes nearly impossible for rational behavior to win out and quite easy for selfish buck-passing to occur. it’s far too easy to take the tact that “i’m just doing my job” when you’re just a cog in a machine that defrauds the public out of its money or systematically passes bad loans to new chumps. or, in the case of education, it’s too easy to look out for yourself and forget the children, as cliche as that sounds.
guggenheim directed this and the first year, a 1999 documentary that i saw in 2002. i wrote about it: “this was as depressing as it was inspiring. not fantasically shot or told, but documentaries don’t need to be – especially when the subject matter is so good.”
i watch a lot of movies and remember very few of them, but i remember this one eight years later because it really was a depressing and inspiring film. guggenheim has done it again with waiting for superman. he’s obviously a pretty good guy so i guess it makes up for the fact that he stole elizabeth shue from the rest of the world. damn him.
it’s a sobering look at the state of education today and it’s well put together. it mostly pins the blame on the unions, which probably isn’t too far off. one major problem, though, is that we continue to measure success as going to, and graduating from, college. that really shouldn’t be the goal of about half our population. we should reemphasize manufacturing and working with our hands (other than flipping burgers). as a society we should also encourage continued education. our community colleges are under-utilized and its a shame because they have a lot to offer.
it’s a pretty depressing state of affairs and i’ve felt it (education) is the most important single issue in the country since my freshman year of college when i first got to thinking about the problems our country faces. an educated polity solves a lot of ills and an uneducated one causes a lot of problems. it’s really that simple.
good, solid film that probably isn’t going to make any difference on a systemic level. i’m increasingly of the same mind as george carlin who lamented that change can only be seen on the individual level. so, i’ll continue to try to change things one person and one speech at a time, all while knowing that the rest of society will be happily walking off the edge of the cliff.
some of my recommendations:
- more time in school. school hours are fine at 6-7 hours a day, but there’s no reason kids should have summer off to wander aimlessly and work on their tans.
- reemphasize: physical education, on the job training, music, art, vocational training in high school (remember auto shop, wood shop, driver’s ed?) they’re all gone or moved to the private sector.
- real accountability for teachers, principals, counselors. tenure is a joke and applies to teaching and no other profession i know of, certainly none of that size/importance. it’s a free pass in the most important profession in the country. that’s the worst possible combination i can think of.
- pay teachers above a living wage, pay for it by closing prisons and military bases.
- more community outreach – teach civics by going to the legislature, learn about the trades by helping them as laborers, learn what it is to be a good citizen and worker.