"We have tissues in the front and tissues in the back," Kenya Bradshaw, director of the local chapter of Stand for Children, told local educators, business people, and education advocates in the Methodist Presentation Theater at the U of M yesterday.
"People think they're not going to cry. You are going to cry."
Memphis was chosen as one of 16 sites for a special screening of Waiting for Superman, a film from Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) about the "crisis of public education."
The film focuses on the systematic problems hardwired into the current system, such as tenure guidelines that don't allow districts to get rid of unsuccessful teachers, but it also follows five children (and their parents) who are trying to find better educational options than the traditional public school system.
In part, Guggenheim revisited the subject of education — his his film Teach came out in 2001 — because he drives past three public schools to take his children to a private school each day.
When I was a cub reporter, my very first beat was education. One thing I remember from that time was an idea of shared blame. When a school wasn't successful, parents blamed teachers. Teachers blamed students.
The current idea, one the Flyer has written about recently, is that all students can learn, no matter what the disadvantages at home, and that the most important factor in a child's education is having an effective teacher.
The film also hit on tracking, a concept that historically divided students into roughly professional, clerical, and manual labor career tracks. But with a large majority of U.S. jobs currently requiring a college degree, maybe tracking should be abolished.
There was also some discussion that maybe failing schools create failing neighborhoods just as often as the other way around. If you have 40,000 students drop out in the 40-year life span of a school, as one principal in California noted, what does that do the community in which they live?
The film was a little heavy on being pro-charter school, but with select charter schools as the bright spot in student scores and achievement, it's probably to be expected. The problem is — shown clearly and heartbreaking in the film — that's great for children who are lucky enough to get into one of those schools. What about the ones who don't?
Seriously, when it comes out in Memphis in October, you should see it. Even if you don't have kids. Maybe especially if you don't have kids, because you might not know how schools work (or don't) right now.
Just don't forget to bring tissues.