Are We Still Waiting for Superman?

Back at the start of the fall, the ed reform community was all atwitter about the movie documentary, Waiting for Superman.  Throughout the spring and summer, we had special previews of the movie for reform-minded audiences.  The national release of the movie in September brought effusive articles in national publications on the movie, its message, and the impact it would have on public education throughout the United States.  It seemed everyone was waiting for Superman.

But now that we are a few months from the theatrical release, where exactly are we?  Reviewers on IMdB gave the movie a 7.4 out of 10.  Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 4.1 out of 5, with 86 percent of those who saw it liking it.  But so far it has taken in just over $6 million in ticket sales, making it the 147th most popular movie of 2010.  And it is 20th on the all-time documentary list, currently earning about one-quarter of what An Inconvenient Truth earned at the box office.  At its widest release, it was showing at 330 movie theaters around the country.
We know it was popular in East Coast anchors (and reform cities) like New York and Washington, DC.  But is the movie having the sort of rhetorical and advocacy impact so many expected just three months ago?
Recent media coverage on Superman focuses on whether it is gaining Oscar buzz, not whether it is impacting our public schools.  The “status quoers” who were aghast when Superman first came out are now trying to direct educator attention to movies such as Race to Nowhere.  And while the movie’s producers continue to try drive advocacy through its website, the biggest recent news seems to be the $15 gift card you can get for your school if you buy the Waiting for Superman book at Border’s Books.
It all begs the question, are we still Waiting for Superman?  Is a movie with so much promise or hype (depending on your perspective) having the sort of impact promised during those advance screenings and the sophisticated social media campaigns to drive folks to the theaters?
Back in September, Eduflack questioned whether Superman could deliver on the promise, and move us from a state of awareness (which Superman does a great job of) to one of action.  It isn’t enough to visit a website or to click on a web box to read how important it is to write elected officials.  Change needs goals.  Change needs specific assignments and tactics.  Change needs tick lists to measure progress.  And change needs clear asks that voices from across the country are asking for in pitch-perfect unison.  That’s the only way you reform a system that is so invested in maintaining the status quo.
Perhaps it was too much for us to expect a movie to do all of that.  But there is still the opportunity for someone to harness the interest in Superman and put it to use in a real, honest-to-goodness, social advocacy campaign.  The problems identified in Superman remain.  They won’t be fixed overnight. 

2 thoughts on “Are We Still Waiting for Superman?

  1. I’m not quite sure what would make this Oscar worthy. Unless you were already in a group that didn’t feel your voice was heard… and this did that for you… I’m not sure you came away with much, except that the the system needs to be fixed.I know a lot of ed reform types were blown away… but I didn’t see much original thinking. There wasn’t a lot of tension or an interesting contrast between viewpoints. I didn’t feel any “a-ha” moment… and even felt a slightly uncomfortable suspicion that part of the film’s purpose was simply to affirm to white liberals that black and brown parents care about their kids’ education.Don’t ask me what I would put into a documentary to galvanize a country… I don’t have a clue. I’m sure some of those numbers and figures they used… but WFS definitely underwhelmed, and even bored, me.

  2. “It’s hard to get someone to agree with you, when their job depends on them not agreeing.”I forget who said that, but it’s appropriate. WFS is a great conversation starter, and in that sense it is valuable.However, if our goal is to transform education, alienating the people with the greatest influence to make change, the teachers, isn’t a very good way to start.Educational transformation isn’t going to come from billionaires donating money to causes which are resisted by all those for whom the cause is meant to change, but it will come from a grass-roots level.You want to change educators minds? We need a documentary that shows the promise of education under adversity and the amazing potential every child has to be successful. We need to show that there is a better way than our current system.

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