Thursday, October 28, 2010

Definitely see Waiting for Superman

The Education Club at Yale SOM last night sponsored an outing to see the documentary "Waiting for Superman," which examines the failures (and possible salvations) of the U.S. public school system. I'm very interested in education and always have been; if I were to go the nonprofit route after school, this is the industry I would pursue. And this movie is pretty eye-opening. 

I went to private school from kindergarten through third grade, then switched to public school for 4th through senior year. I've always had a lot of pride about my school but know that I was lucky to live in a wealthy-enough area that my school was well-funded. Also, my school was free of one of the main problems with public schools that this film points out -- union restrictions that prevent incentive structures from rewarding good teachers and pushing out bad ones. My school district was the only one in the county that offered teachers merit-based raises, so it attracted good teachers. And furthermore I went to high school during a particularly peak time in the school's life cycle: Most of my teachers had been there for at least 30 years and have since retired, so they'd had the benefits of lots of experience and practice.

Education is obviously a deeply complex issue that elitics strong opinions about the root cause of the problem: Inadequate funding, parents disengagement, weak teachers, lack of technical innovation in the classroom, mind-frying video games and TV, poor nutrition for kids, drugs, generational culture, apathy on the part of the kids themselves, etc. Seems to me it's really an ecosystem of problems, although even after seeing this movie it's still not obvious to me how bad the "problem" really is, or what role a compulsory classroom education should play in kids' upbringing. Anyway, it's a great movie that brings up all kinds of issues, including tracking, standardized tests, teachers unions, charter schools and their lottery systems for admissions, and so on. Definitely catch it if you can.

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