This weekend sees the opening of Davis Guggenheim’s new documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’. In it Guggenheim follows the lives of a handful of children who are, in the street vernacular, being kept down by the system. Guggenheim has been on several programs this week promoting his movie as not only an exposé on an educational system that has been broken for 40 years, but, thanks to new research over the last 10 years, a solution to the problem.
Disclaimer: I have not seen the movie. However, unless it addresses three very important factors, it’s not worth the price of admission.
1) Whoever really wants to learn will learn, even if they go to the worst school in the worst area. Guggenheim said that the educational system has been broken for 40 years. I’m 40. I went to public school. I was accepted to UCLA. I am now a physician. In medical school one of my classmates was also a student at my [public] high school. Granted, my schools were not the worst, nor in the worst neighborhoods, but it does not change the fact that those who wish to succeed will.
2) Not everyone needs an education to be successful and contributing members of society. I always wanted to do well in school. When I got home, the first thing I did was plop down on my bed and do my homework (and I had chores to finish before my father got home, or there would be a whoopin’). On the other hand, my two sisters hated school. One barely graduated at all, and she would have given her firstborn (well, at the time; now we all would have slapped her upside the head if she would have given away that little angel that came into our family 10 years later) to be able to leave school without repercussions. But that sister has been self sufficient since turning 18 and was the first in our family to buy her own home. Yes, she works for the government (no, not in Bell, CA), but she is doing something she’s wanted to do since she was 14, something important to every member of our great state.
3) Not everyone wants an education. My sister, as I said, wanted to leave school as early as she could without damaging her ability to get her dream job, one that has kept her happy for the last 25 years. But I don’t believe she was ever a distraction in class. There are students who are forced to go to public school who do not want to be there, who do not need to be there (they want to be mechanics, plumbers, etc., all good respectable jobs that keep a roof over heads and bellies full), and whose presence is detrimental to the learning experience of those around them. I’m not saying anyone should be forced to leave public school because they are having difficulty. But I do think that those who know early on that their chosen career path does not require continuing education should not be forced to occupy space in a public school, become bored (or worse, rebellious) and begin participating in activities that may get them into bigger academic (or worse, legal) trouble.
You can argue that point 3 is the result of being in an environment that is not conducive to learning, that if they would just receive positive attention they would see they should study, they would do better on exams, they could get into college, and they could become a doctor or lawyer or etc. But we will still need mechanics, and there are still only 160 medical schools. If 100% of all students graduated from high school and went on to college, and as many people who wanted to could enter medical school, we would have so many physicians that each one would make $20,000 per year if they were lucky.
And where would we get our cars fixed? Could you imagine paying $85,000 to have your tires changed? Because that would be what the engineer who installed them would want…after all, why else did he go to college for 6 years and accrue $150,000 in student loans?