Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thinking About Superman

I see that new documentary, Waiting for Superman, will be opening in Ottawa tomorrow. I’m not entirely sure why a film explicitly about the American educational system is relevant to Canadians, but it’s coming regardless. Not that it shouldn’t, but let’s not jump to too many hysterical conclusions about the Canadian system based on this evaluation of the system to the south of us. Let’s also not forget the fact that there is no one Canadian system, and I’m pretty sure that the same is true for the good old US of A, and I think that needs to be remembered.

Since I haven’t seen the film and don’t intend to, I cannot fairly critique it. However, based on newspaper reports and Oprah’s episode on the topic , I am afeared that it might be a complete trashing of the whole American system. I gather it’s a call to action and not meant to be an unbiased evaluation, and that’s fair enough as I’m sure the problems that the film documents are real enough. I am also quite confident, however, that there are thousands of fine public schools south of the border with tens of thousands of wonderful teachers and hundreds of thousands of incredible students. I think it is important to recognize that.

It seems to me, and not just in this instance but in general, that when people criticize the educational system, they tend to forget one thing: we tend to get what we want and ask for.

Schools are a mirror of society. If it is important for schools to become better, then it is of great importance that parents and communities also be willing do better. If society’s wish is for everyone to pass and feel good about themselves at minimum expenditure, then that’s what schools will learn to deliver. I can’t fault the goal of ensuring that all students should succeed. Obviously, they should. Just as obviously, we should want all students to think of themselves in a positive light. Unfortunately, implemented properly, such goals carry a price tag, for it requires proper identification and remediation. Resources and support staff need to be made available, and that costs.

Parents also must be willing to be part of the solution and not just be vociferous complainers. If parents refuse to step up and be supportively involved in their child’s educations, they can only expect the school to accomplish so much. One example: if parents don’t insist on their child doing homework and many don’t, then teachers tend to stop assigning it or at least very much. It only makes sense, for if only a third or less of the class normally completes the work , the teacher is left with a difficult dilemma: to leave the two-thirds behind, or to try to pull the majority along even if it means having to slow the achievers down. In my experience s/he will most likely decide to try to teach as much as possible to as many as possible, leaving as few in the dust as possible. Put like that, who would have it any other way?

So, by all means, let’s examine the educational system and try to ameliorate its flaws and weaknesses, but if the goal is to make significant advances, the issue must be framed properly in the wider societal context. Otherwise, despite our angst and railings, little will be accomplished in the long term.

12 comments:

Mary G said...

Amen to that!

KGMom said...

Hear, hear.
Isn't it amazing that some parents want schools to clean up the mess they made with their children--then get angry and blame schools when the schools can't.

Tonya said...

I so totally agree with you. Parents do need to get involved and stop complaining... lol I found your blog through kila's :)

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

AC, I recently heard about this documentary. The educational standards are quite low in the area we now live in. Apathy seems the culprit on the part of students and parents. There are doubltess many fine educators who feel frustrated by the lack of cooperation and participation of students and parents alike.

Anvilcloud said...

Just to be clear to everybody because I'm not sure that I was in the post, I am sure that the film is spot on in any number of ways. I am wondering, however, if the role of society and parents has not been ignored. It's very important IMO.

Bachelor said...

Very well spoken, AC!!
:) The Bach

Donna said...

Well, I haven't seen it yet but do intend to...so I'll save my critique until then...in the meantime...pack up and move to Texas...We are in need of excellent teachers... :o)

Kila said...

You might remember me blogging in past years about the immense struggles I had when my boys were in public schools. Horrible. The system is beyond broke, largely due to the teachers' unions. The whole system is hostage to the unions. Parents can fight, but they seldom get far. Even when you find principals or teachers who want to change things, they simply aren't allowed to.

We are very happy with our private school. More than worth every penny. ... Parents should be free to choose a private school for their kids, and have their dollars follow them from the public school they left.

Anvilcloud said...

Kila: your experience was not a good one for sure, and I do not excuse that. I am sorry that you had to resort to expensive private schooling in order to meet your needs. I believe that a good public education system is fundamental to democracy, and it certainly bothers me that parents like you find it necessary to look elsewhere. As I said in my piece, I cannot comment specifically on the American system. All I can do is share my opinion that, at least to some extent, educational problems are societal and that aspect should be part of the discussion.

Ginnie said...

I have not seen the documentary either but I think it needs to be seen. Did you see where the school principal in Washington, DC (who had fired some teachers who did not measure up and was doing a stellar job for her school system) was fired...after extreme pressure from the Unions there. I think that is the basis of the problem!!

Anvilcloud said...

I think she may have been on Oprah that day. She hadn't been fired yet if that's the case.

Ruth said...

Our twins had a poor teacher in Gr 2 (it turned out that she was ill) and when they were assigned to her class in Gr 3, I had no options as there was only one Gr 3 class and the school board would not let us change schools. So I homeschooled for 2 years and then put them in a private school for another couple of years where they thrived. They needed challenge and structure which they were not getting in our public school. Our youngest daughter was in the public system for all grades and she had excellent teachers. Parents must be involved and proactive if their children are having issues in school.