Previously known for his global warming doc “An Inconvenient Truth,” Director Davis Guggenheim investigates the decline and shortcomings of the U.S. education system and its affect on our children’s future in “Waiting for Superman.”
Guggenheim strikes a chord with his latest release, ultimately comparing the idea and the reality of an “American education,” and he makes an entertaining case. The documentary makes a quick, clear argument with cute animated industry research, interviews with education reformers and a firsthand account of families who are desperate to achieve a better education for their children.
More importantly Guggenheim asks, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And this is where the heart of the film lies. Through the eyes of five hopeful kids, he cultivates the facts with the hope of their future and concentrates on five different families who are vying for a spot at local charter schools and are forced to depend on the lottery system for admission. And so it becomes not a question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” but can you even receive the proper education to answer.
Supporting Guggenheim is the D.C. Chancellor of Education, Michelle Rhee and education reformer Geoffrey Canada, who both provide witness to the obscurity in education reform. Rhee demonstrates her frustration to reform a system so heavily seeped in politics, while Canada narrates his experiences with much the same difficulties and captures the screen with a vivid, fresh voice. While the documentary doesn’t blame any organization for the political red tape, it doesn’t mince the facts either. Instead, both Rhee and Guggenheim wind up tip toe-ing around the teachers unions, giving valid arguments of inadequacy but never fully committing them to the role of the villain.
In the end, Guggenheim’s education on education is a rewarding documentary that takes several approaches to make its point and compensates with solutions. So the only question left is, “What are you going to do about it?”