The Sad State of Education in America

Waiting for Superman

By Gary Heart

A Land Where Hearts No Longer Break

If you believe our nation is basically sound, and if you believe fairness and opportunity are still universally available in America, I urge you not to watch a movie called Waiting For Superman.  If you have any conscience at all, it will break your heart.
You will see the desperate decline and potential collapse of our public school system, considered by Thomas Jefferson to be absolutely essential to the survival of the American Republic.  For the decline of public education is not merely an economic issue of competition with the Chinese.  It is a moral issue at the core of what a nation with a heart owes its children and future generations.
In this movie you will see teachers failing to teach and students failing to learn.  You will see parents desperate to get their children into better schools that offer hope for the future.  You will also see those students, often quite young, waiting for their number to come up in a cruel lottery where only a few will be chosen.  You will see their young faces when their number does not come up.
Though only elementary school students, they know instinctively they have lost their best, perhaps their last, hope of living a better, more productive life.
If those last pictures do not cause you to weep for them and for your country, then you have entered the land where hearts no longer break.


Waiting for Superman.  If you have any conscience at all, it will break your heart.


About carlos

I'm a curious person, of reasonable intellect, "on the beach" (retired) and enjoying my interest in anthropology, language, civil rights, and a few other areas. I've been a hippie/student/aerospace tech writer in the '60s, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in the ‘70s, a defense test engineer and witness to the Guatemalan genocide in the '80s, and a network engineer for an ISP in the '90s. Now I’m a student and commentator until my time is up. I've spent time under the spell of the Mesoamerican pyramids and the sweet sound of the Portuguese language. I've lived in Europe, traveled in Brazil, Central America, Iceland, New Zealand, and other places. My preferred mode of travel is with a backpack and I eat (almost) anything local. Somehow, many of the countries I have been to have had civil unrest (for which I was not responsible). I'm open to correspond with anyone who might share my liberal, humanist interests. I live in San Buenaventura, California.
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4 Responses to The Sad State of Education in America

  1. peakers82 says:

    I agree that the problem in American schools must go deeper than the items you mentioned. There is a “cultural chasm”. In this country I would call it a “socioeconomic chasm” In my opinion, poverty is the greatest threat to American education. I’ve worked in education for most of the last decade. I graduated from high school in 2000. Since then I’ve dealt with public education, private education, special education, etc. In searching for the career I want, I think I’ve learned some things.

    When you say there was an academic and trade track, I see what you mean. It’s true that we emphasize college these days. It turns out that an electrician, a plumber, or an auto mechanic doesn’t need to go to college. In fact college doesn’t offer the right training for those professions. They should go to trade school. You said this emphasis on college above all is harmful and I agree.

    Your comment that education goes deeper than charter schools, bonus pay, or smaller class sizes is spot on. We’ve taken to attacking teachers for student’s performance instead of looking to the other factors in students lives.

    As to the difference between American and Chinese students, I believe we are far from any objective look at the subject. Last year the test that ranks nations on education (I can’t remember what it’s called) ranked the US in the lower 10. If I remember we were about 9th. China wasn’t even on the list. Shanghai was, and they did quite well.

    The point is that China is an emerging world power and they are still expanding things like education. For those tests not all Chinese students are tested. That’s because the problem we have with test scores is only amplified when you go to a country like China or India that has such a huge area and population to service.

    Anyway, I may have been to harsh on “Waiting For Superman” but I am a huge advocate for public schools. The most important thing is that you and I have these discussions. I really hope blogs can raise the level of public discourse in this country. In any case please read my blog and I will continue to read yours. Good luck!

    • carlos says:

      Thanks for the comment, Peakers82. Of course, in China, we are not looking at “average” Chinese students. The ones who are tested are among the brightest. However, asian children seem to dominate at some universities in America because they consistently scored well and didn’t consider ditching to be an extracurricular course.
      I believe some of the difference is cultural. Chinese students tend to respect their parents and strive to satisfy their wishes as otherwise they would not exist. This element of filial piety does not exist in America. On the contrary, unremitting love of children is predominant here.
      I understand this well as would most parents. But where asian children sacrifice and strive for the approval of parents, American children are socialized to consider parents and grandparents as increasingly naïve, “old school,” and a liability soon to be needing an independent living situation.
      The hubris of youth is often replaced a humble recognition that it ain’t as easy as it seems if you grow up middle class. I grew up like this, parents were not respected but rather out maneuvered by the unbridled raw intelligence of the new cohort.
      Of course, many students do well, they “get it.” How to instill the sense that they are NOT entitled in the many who don’t get it is hard to discern. But I believe deeply that students should be directed into areas that interest them (a Montessori concept) and those who enjoy working with wood should be encouraged without being compared to students who solve quadratic equations for fun.
      All of our endeavors are valuable, especially when they align with our interests. There must be parallel career paths that are not superior or inferior, but equally valuable.

  2. peakers82 says:

    I know the movie was moving , but it is also terribly misleading. Davis Guggenheim proved he can make a provocative film while hardly telling the truth. The movie makes charter schools out to be a magic bullet for education. Research has shown otherwise. Charter schools perform no better than public schools on average, and carry large risks. They generally lack oversight and as they have become for-profit more stories of mismanagement have come out. Education needs help in this country but this film really didn’t provide the answer.

    • carlos says:

      Thanks for your feedback, peaker82. I haven’t seen the film but I am acutely sensitive to the American attitude that our children should be coddled rather than challenged. I’m referring to the article. I am a product of NYC schools, which are excellent. When I was in school there were two tracks for a student, the academic and the trade track. Today it appears that all should go to college with no alternative “career path.” In my opinion this is harmful. I think the trend line of American students is in negative territory and the analysis must go deeper than charter schools, bonus pay, or smaller class size. I see a cultural chasm that needs to be bridged. What do you think the difference between American and Chinese students is? Thanks for the comment

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