At the insistence of a friend, I watched the film Waiting for Superman directed etc. by David Guggenheim. In his voice-over, Guggenheim describes his realization that Superman would not come to save his childhood self. He comes to the realization that a science fiction hero cannot save anyone in the real world. As I watched the “docudrama” I came to the same conclusion about this film fiction.
As I watched, I waited for some reasoned explanation for the failures of
I guess one would class the adventures of Superman as Science Fiction; Mr. Guggenheim’s film is Science Fiction too.
Here are fallacies which doom Waiting for Superman to the pile of failed Smallville episodes:
1. False Generalization: The idea that education in
One other thought on this misleading assessment of the students from different countries: what is the standardized international test which is given to all the students in all the nations to justly and reasonable compare them? I have never seen such an international test. We may well be measuring in inches what others are measuring in centimeters or in cubits.
2. False Cause, (post hoc ergo propter hoc, after that therefore caused by it). The film presents four schools which all have purportedly excellent teachers and which in spite of socio-economic conditions, racial and ethnic mixture produce excellent students who do well on tests and get into college. The conclusion drawn is that if you can have such excellent teachers you can make any students into successes, rescue them from the degraded state of public education. But this is false cause. The schools:
I have nothing against super schools or the super parents that move their children into them. I would do the same if my children were forced into classrooms filled with delinquents and dullards. But this migration of the select not only raises the effectiveness of these bastions to learning, it undermines the efforts of those teachers, even the best of them, left in the public schools which are hemorrhaging good students, the only demonstrable foundation of good schools, while being required to “educate” the dross which remains. Deserted by the students which could save them, public schools face declining scores and declining quality of teachers.
Satisfied with their miscalculation, the tale spinners leap to all sorts of unfounded conclusions:
1. American students are falling behind in the competitive world of modern education.
2. Teachers are motivated by money.
3. All students are willing to work hard, given the opportunity to do so.
4. All people value the goals of liberal education and college entrance.
5. The purpose of education is to prepare workers and money earners, hence tax payers.
6. The only obstacle to universal student excellence in
7. That tenure is a universal privilege granted to all American teachers.
8. That the purpose of unions is to protect the jobs of bad teachers.
9. Good teahcers can motivate bad students.
These and many other false assumptions are set out without support, critiques, or counter. We are to blithely accept that Superman is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. That if properly inspired, the man of steel can fly so fast that he can reverse the spin of the earth on its axis and turn back time.
On this rotten foundation of pseudo science Guggenheim and Gates then presume to offer a solution to the problem they have totally failed to understand or describe. The only answer to the supposed failure of American Education is to improve teachers by ending tenure and the establishment of merit pay. To hear Bill Gates, who threw millions of dollars down the rabbit hole of Small Learning Communities; a program which damaged the very educational institutions he pretended to repair; speak of this latest cure for all of American’s ills, is a comedy of errors worthy of a comic book.
I know a few things about education. I know that when teachers do better, good students do better. I also know that bad teachers can do little to harm good students.
What I do not know is how to make bad students good, or by what criteria one can measure the quality of every teacher in relation to every student. Real science cannot pretend to deal with these challenges with some blanket cure-all, superhero solution.
After watching Waiting for Superman I asked my friend for a criterion by which to measure teacher excellence. The success of the AMA and the BAR association in improving the quality of teachers was suggested. I wondered by what criteria the AMA judges doctors. When a doctor’s patient dies – that seems like a failure to me – should all doctors who lose patients be fired? Does losing a case in court constitute a failure for a lawyer, and should all lawyers who lose in court be disbarred?
I asked my friend what motivated other professionals to do their best – and it was suggested that money was the answer. I have long maintained that increasing teacher pay would improve teachers, not by motivating the ones already in service to greater excellence but by stimulating more and higher quality people to enter that field. Though admittedly, some of the finest people I know are already teachers. I would like to see the science.
The fact remains, that even if we get better teachers, which would surely benefit good students everywhere and probably inspire some mediocre ones as well, the sea of under- motivated and even antagonistic students, who lack desire from within or support from without, would still drag down scores on standardized tests and leave those who rely on science fiction waiting for Superman.