Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Waiting for Superman" and "Education Nation" on NBC

In case you missed it,  we had a bit of an explosion of education-related talk in the media this weekend. On Friday, Oprah showcased a new documentary called "Waiting for Superman." I haven't seen the film, so I can't really comment on it. However, it has caused a certain amount of controversy. 

Essentially, it is an attempt to investigate and indict the United States education system. I'm sure many of the filmmakers' points have merit. However, at one point, it follows the story of a group of elementary school students who have to enter a lottery to get into a selective charter school, and the heartbreak some experience when they "lose" the lottery and are forced to attend their local public school. Can you see where this is going?

AFT President Randi Weingarten wrote a review which you can read here

Oprah, The  Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Arne Duncan have fully entered the discussion using the words "charter schools" and "choice" with increasing regularity. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg dramatically appeared on Friday's show to offer $100 million to Newark, N.J.'s school system.  The mayor of Newark strongly supports charter schools and vouchers. Coincidentally, a reportedly unflattering film about Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook called "The Social Network" opens October 1.

Furthermore, NBC devoted the majority of the Sunday "Today Show", and large chunks of MSNBC programming to what they have called "Education Nation". The official website is here.  From the website (Sponsored in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, btw), you can read the following:

"Education Nation is a nationally broadcast, in-depth conversation about improving education in America. During an interactive summit on Rockefeller Plaza, parents, teachers**, and students will come together with leaders in politics, business, and technology to discuss the challenges and opportunities in education today. In addition, NBC News will turn Rockefeller Plaza into a “Learning Plaza," a series of five galleries, open to the public, which will allow visitors to explore America's educational "ecosystem." During the entire week of September 26th, NBC News will highlight education stories as well as broadcast live from the Plaza" 

** Editor's note:  the amount to which they invited educators to participate in this discussion is ....debatable. 

All in all, there's plenty of money and ego flying around from a lot of celebrities, billionaires, and politicians who purport to want to "fix" education.

Are you feeling icky yet?

Better yet: Ever seen "The Fly"? Remember Geena Davis's line? "Be afraid. Be very afraid." 

Well, one interesting  product of all of this politician and celebrity-heavy "conversation" has been that educators have taken notice and are doing what they can to make their voices heard however they can. In my opinion, it has a refreshing "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!" feeling. (Young people, that line is from a movie called "Network". Go see it.)

I strongly suggest that you do what you can to get up to speed on these "Waiting for Superman/Oprah/Education Nation" events, if you haven't already, and make your voice heard however you can. Call a congressman, add a comment to a blog, watch the events as they unfold this week on MSNBC, whatever. Due to the overwhelming response to Friday's show (and corresponding ratings, no doubt), Oprah has announced that Monday's show will continue the "Waiting for Superman" topic.

As educators, we tend to try to follow the rules as best we can. We're rule followers at heart: that's one reason we succeeded in school and became educators in the first place, right? We play the traditional school game well: do what you're told. But there comes a point at which we have to let the public know what sort of nonsense we've had to deal with since the passage of NCLB. More importantly, we need to let the public know what we really do for kids, no matter what a Kafka-esque accountability system leads them to believe. (Maybe it's more of a Joseph Heller "Catch-22"-esque system. Or a "What if Michael Scott from 'The Office' ran the Department of Education"-esque system?)  English teachers: help me out here.

Anyway, I hope some of this leads to a more honest national discussion on education, and helps educators to find a way to "go wide" with their stories. If the public only really know what we do for kids........

Here are some links to get you up on the discussion:

A brief explanation of Twitter searches:
If you're not a Twitter person, you should be. The "discussion" that NBC seemed to believe it initiated about education is happening literally all the time on Twitter. People who use Twitter a lot often "tag" their posts to make them easier to search and focus on a particular topic by using a hashtag  "#", followed by a keyword like "educationnation". So, people commenting on Education Nation, and posting links to blogs and articles have been adding "#educationnation" to their posts.

You can use something like Tweetgrid to easily search those comments. As they're posted, they pop up in real time. By doing this, you can see how a Twitter conversation develops (it's a little messy), and find all sorts of great resources in the process. The link I posted above is a search of the #educationnation posts.

Another search that will send an incredible amount of resources your way is #edchat. Here's a Tweetgrid search of that.


  1. Also check out from Rethinking Schools. It provides links to all sorts of articles about reform and pushback to the film.