Arguably the single most important spur to public acceptance and concern over global climate change as an issue came from Davis Guggenheim's 2006 documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth." With that video, global warming moved from being a topic of scientific conferences, technical journals, and environmental activists to being a household term familiar to parents and children alike.
What "An Inconvenient Truth" and Al Gore did for climate change, Guggenheim's "Waiting for Superman" and Bill Gates may soon be doing for American education reform. Judging from reports emanating from this year's Sundance Film Festival, a popular-media tidal wave is taking shape, and it could well make all previous efforts to sell the Bush/Spellings/Obama/Duncan education reforms look like ripples in a backyard wading pool.
Mr. Guggenheim has compiled a "definitive" explanatory documentary of America's educational ills (based, of course, on his certainty that the current system is broken). A short item by Brooks Barnes in the NY Times on Monday, February 1 described "Waiting for Superman" as "a searing indictment of public education in the United States." So who exactly is Guggenheim indicting? Here's part of one Sundance attendee's review (Matt Belloni, from the Hollywood Reporter):
"In fact, for all its focus on underprivileged, inner-city kids, sections of SUPERMAN feel like they could have been cut together by Bill O'Reilly. Slo-mo footage of union leader speeches opposing reform that could help problem schools. Hidden-cam video of a teacher reading newspapers and checking his watch as his class goofs around. New York educators being paid millions to not teach. A major subject of the film, reform-minded DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, runs into a crippling teachers-union road block in her effort to shift pay structures to reward good teachers."
Guggenheim has cherry-picked and packaged every hoary scare story from the last twenty-five years: the lazy and incompetent teacher, the reactionary and obstructionist union as represented by "villainess" Randi Weingarten (of whom one commentator notes that the movie "make[s] something of a foaming satanic beast"), the Democratic Party supported by those teacher unions, the lack of incentive rewards for "good" teachers, and not enough charter schools.
Sound familiar? Sound like a documentary, or an advocacy piece? Still not sure? Well then, go back to the top of this posting and check out the "Terminator"-like nuclear-bomb-blast scene surrounding the little blonde, white girl in the movie's advertising poster. Anyone but me reminded of LBJ's infamous, anti-Goldwater nuclear holocaust campaign ad, the one that was shown on TV exactly one time and pretty much decided the election?
And who are the stars of Guggenheim's film? None other than NYC's own Geoffrey Canada, supported by Michelle Rhee and KIPP founders David Levin and Mike Feinberg, backed by a song written and performed just for this movie by John Legend.
So where is the Superman who can save our little blond children from these incompetent teachers and their devil's-spawn unions? Where's Clark Kent when we need him? Never fear, that bespectacled, geeky guy is here, only this Superman's street-clothes identity is Bill Gates. Numerous reports from Sundance indicate that billion-dollar Bill has shown more than a passing interest in this film. In fact, he was a highly visible participant at the Sundance Festival's "Waiting for Superman" screening, actually sharing the stage at the Q&A afterward with Guggenheim and Canada. He even twittered gushingly from the screening that there was "not a dry eye in the house." (Sniff, sniff).
Remarkably, in that Q&A following the movie's premier, director Guggenheim chose to let Mr. Gates speak for him. "Guggenheim was happy to defer questions to Gates, even admitting, 'I'm so glad Bill is here!'" When the director cedes his place to a third party with no involvement in the movie's creation, one has to assume said director is not terribly comfortable with his knowledge level on the subject matter, and/or that there's another agenda. Not hard to guess what that would be.
Distribution rights to "Waiting for Superman" were sold to Paramount Vanguard before the movie was even shown at Sundance. Then again, it was Paramount who distributed Guggenheim's "An Inconvenient Truth" to the tune of $50 million in receipts. They must be seeing deja vu all over again.
A few years from now, we may look back at "Waiting for Superman" as the real beginning of the end for American public education. Davis Guggenheim's documentary could become the key propaganda piece that persuades a dull-witted, gullible, and uninformed American public that only Superman Gates, Lois Lane Rhee, and Jimmy Olsen Canada can save their children from the locust-like hordes of brainy, ultra-educated, young Chinese men and women who are just chomping at the bit to step ashore and eat their lunches. If Mr. Gates and his steamrolling billions have anything to say about it, you can bet we'll be seeing and hearing a lot more about "Waiting for Superman" in the coming months.
Just in case you think this is a one-shot deal, brace yourself for another one, due on May 7. It's a film titled, "The Lottery." Yeah, you guessed it -- another "documentary," this one about the charter school lottery process in Harlem, starring Geoffrey Canada, Eva Moskowitz (Harlem Success Academy), Dacia Toll (Achievement First), and Joel Klein. The movie's position? How about this excerpt from a review from the CNBC website:
"The Lottery exposes the backwards politics and nefarious agendas of politicians and special interest groups who stand in the way of improving a failing public school system."
I never realized that I'm a backwards special interest group with a nefarious agenda. But hey, at least I'll be able to have some fun at the movies!! Looks like 2010 is going to be a long, long year.