An insult to teachers and students

September 14, 2010

A NUMBER of members of Educators for a Democratic Union (EDU) and a few leaders from our union, United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), attended the advanced screening of Davis Guggenheim's Waiting for Superman.

We were there to pass out some leaflets and challenge the director of the movie, who would be speaking at the end.

What about the movie?

Yikes! Let me try and summarize: The problems with public education is bad teachers, the tenure that protects them and the unions that protect tenure. The problem is not funding, because plenty of money has been thrown at schools to succeed. The solution is charters. Also, there is some criticism of "tracking," which is probably the only part of the movie I agreed with.

That's about it. When Guggenheim took questions afterward, he opened with the fact that he was a "friend of public education," that he liked unions, and that he was not saying charters were the answer.

The problem was that the entire thrust of his movie contradicted that. It was crazy.

UESF leaders and EDUers were able to get questions out to him that challenged the frame of his movie: Why are you attacking unions? Why don't you mention funding? Or the larger political questions facing the country?

Guggenheim was mostly patronizing, saying that he couldn't include "everything." Regarding unions, he said he was in a union (the Director's Guild) and he supported unions and the protections they provide. Presumably, he is for protections for everyone except teachers. He also called himself a leftist, saying that believed in social justice...after bashing unions and teachers.

I stuck around afterward to invite Guggenheim to come to Mission High School and actually see how public education works to serve our neediest students. I also told him that I was disappointed by his attack on unions, which had been the only protection many of us had this year when the budget ax came swinging down.

I overheard him talking to an aide saying "Wow! This was a tough crowd." She replied, "Well, it is San Francisco."

I was surprised by this, because he had only fielded four or five questions at most. We hadn't even started!

Finally, for a movie titled Waiting for Superman in which "Superman" is supposed to be a great teacher (white and male, I guess), this movie did not contain a single interview with a teacher. It had a grainy camera inside a class which showed teachers reading a newspaper. It showed clips from School of Rock and the Simpsons but no teachers

Who was interviewed? Principals of charters, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and, of course, Bill Gates' ugly mug was all over the movie.

My final question to Mr. Guggenheim is, if you are really "Waiting for Superman" why do you spend so much time in your movie interviewing Lex Luthor?
Andy Libson, San Francisco

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