Teaching Superman.

In the wake of the newly released documentary, Waiting for Superman, there have been numerous shows devoted to the topic of public education in America. It is without a doubt the current hot topic on the lips of those at the water cooler.

When I became aware of this film some months ago, I began paying attention to all the rumblings and gurgle surrounding Davis Guggenheim's newest project. I recorded every episode (of which I was aware) that discussed Superman. I watched them all. I've been reading newspaper clipping and blogs, and listening to what colleagues have to say. And man, do they have things to say. The film opened a couple weeks ago in limited release, and opens locally this Friday; I'll be going to see it. My mission is twofold: 1. I want to see the film. 2. Preview it for my students.

I have been working super hard to put together a field trip for my school's high school students that will take them to a private screening. I was jazzed and pumped about the whole idea. I was motivated to see it through. However, when I first got the bug about putting this all together, I had no idea how many hoops I'd have to jump through.

After first proposing the trip to my principal, hereafter named "B," I was encouraged. B remarked that he thought it was a cool idea and that I should do some research and put together a more formal structure for the viewing of the film. So I did. I began watching and reading everything on the matter, plenty of which there was to absorb. Mention something about public education in America, and everyone from teacher to parent to pedestrian, has an opinion about what's going well and what's not. I called theaters to locate where the film would be showing, I put together a bell schedule, and I came up with 7 follow-up questions. And then someone mentioned: Union.

B informed me that he was going to put in a call to his boss and that I should put in a call to our local teacher's union. It was a CYA move (read: Cover Your Ass). The view that Guggenheim presents in the film is, apparently, derogatory towards both public school teachers and teachers unions. B wanted to be certain that we, by taking students to see the film, would not be pissing off our local union. He also said he wanted to make sure my name and my colleague - the gracious soul willing to brave the fire with me, would not be tarnished. He did not want us to bring down the reputation of the school and be known as those teachers who took their students to see Waiting for Superman.

My first response was to stamp my feet like a three year-old and complain why about all of this needed to be so damn complicated. All I wanted to do was give the students an opportunity to get out of the building (they were promised field trips, but don't really go on many) and see something that is socially relevant (gasp!). I also wanted to point out, to no one in particular, that students watching the film would probably not latch on to the union issues the way adults would. They would be more taken with the plight of the five children followed, and the struggle of those children to get the education they feel they deserved.

C'mon, you really think a fourteen or fifteen year-old student is going to get up in arms about teacher's unions? I guess I could be wrong, but I'm going to bank on the answer being NO.

Above all else, I was determined to be able to give our students an opportunity to see a film that was not only socially relevant, but that was provocative. Isn't one of our goals as teachers to get students to THINK FOR THEMSELVES? Why not take them to see a film that has successfully begun to stir pots and anger people? Let us remove ourselves from leading students to the opinion we think they should have, and actually allow a chance for them to synthesizing the information they've been given at arrive at their own opinions (gasp again!).

Then there came some concern about students viewing the film and leaving the theater feeling badly about themselves because of the fact that public school are portrayed so negatively. What I want to emphasize here is that where we work is not a traditional public school. We are a magnet that is open to all public school students in our district. We are in fact more closely linked to the charter schools that are actually glorified (overly, so I hear) in the film.

Try to do something "outside the box," or outside the thinking of a larger machine and you stand possible crucifixion. I have no ulterior motives in taking students, of which I care for tremendously, other than: GET THEM TO THINK. I want our students to wonder about the world. And, if anything else maybe they'll arrive at the conclusion that they are lucky to be students of a good school, and perhaps newly appreciate the opportunity at their feet.

That. Is. All.

So here's the good news. Recent as of this morning's check of my work email:
  • Our union representative has given us his blessing and think it's a great idea for a field trip - and he's seen the film.
  • In a recent letter to all union members, the union president encouraged ALL teachers to go see the film.
  • B's boss thinks it is a fabulous idea as well. In fact he reports that his boss agrees that this "will be a great learning opportunity for our students!"

And B himself said in an email, "Thank you both for conceiving of this plan and pushing our students to think beyond the walls of [where we work]."

Superman is a go-go.

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