It's the end of a hard-worked week, you want to empty your mind at the local theater, and you spot the Waiting For Superman ad in the entertainment section of your paper. Alas, it has little to do with the superhero from Krypton.
Rather, it's a documentary on the crumbling school system in America. Oh, that sounds like a fun film for a Friday night. So, your eyes move on to less cerebral movie fare, something with "3D" attached to the title. Too bad. You're passing on the most important film of the year, a film that could make you laugh, touch you, make you think, and, ultimately, give you hope that some problems can be fixed despite the government or unions or previous public apathy.
From the studio's press notes: "This insightful investigative report follows a handful of promising kids through a system that inhibits rather than encourages academic growth. It undertakes an exhaustive review of public education, surveying 'drop-out factories' and 'academic sinkholes,' methodically dissecting the system and its seemingly intractable problems."
At this point I'm sure Waiting For Superman (PG) sounds like that nightmarish alarm before first period. And that action film with the "3D" attached still sounds satisfying. But hang with me, let me argue for the support of this potent documentary. Though it is a hundred minutes of facts and charts, and contains a somewhat woe-is-me tone, what was exciting was the film's hopeful conclusion.
What's more, I came to the conclusion after viewing it that if we acted upon the info given in this production, we could actually solve a major problem. It can be fixed. And there's icing on the cake. If we get this remedied, those who say they "feel our pain" -- politicians and union leaders -- might finally put self-preservation behind the needs of the country. Here's my theory.
You have to discover what the ailment is and take the remedy. Viewing the film, well, that's the diagnosis and the medicine.
I am aware that the makers of Waiting For Superman have an agenda, their message being a bit biased. Though there's plenty of blame to go around, the documentary stresses that the teachers' union is a major culprit. But while the union has aided its deserving membership, its protective measures have also abetted those members who are not so deserving. With the facts presented in this film, it's difficult for that union to defend itself satisfactorily.
Now here's the sugar.
Megan Basham wrote in the Nov. 7, 2009 issue of WORLD Magazine about the positive direction the BASIS charter school is making in Tucson, Ariz.: "In 2008, Newsweek ranked BASIS the No. 1 high school in America. It won the publication's fifth place for 2009, and has been in the top 10 every year since 2006. U.S. News and World Report further bolstered BASIS' reputation, naming it 13th on their 2009 best high schools list and giving it a gold medal for college readiness.
"Such vaunted recognition for an institution that was only established 10 years ago is now prompting Washington to take a look. On Oct. 1, after attending the D.C. premiere of the documentary 'Two Million Minutes' that features BASIS, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and the Rev. Al Sharpton -- both part of the Obama administration's education reform team -- flew to Arizona to tour the campus. Though their observations reflected the pair's disparate political philosophies, both praised what they saw."
Ms. Basham's article continued, "Gingrich pointed out how much the school has achieved without expensive facilities and a large budget, saying that when 'the educational establishment sees an institution like this, they're terrified.' Sharpton celebrated the fact that as a charter school, BASIS is free to all students who want to attend and provides low-income and minority students the kind of education that was once only available to those with big bank accounts and the right skin color. With so many people asking how a school located in one of the poorest cities in the country is able to achieve so much with about $1,000 less funding per student than district-run public schools, BASIS is quickly becoming the national model for education reform."
Here's why even those who don't have children should view this film: America was once the leader in education; now we are not even in the top 10 or 20 in most categories (depending on which ranking you view).
I think of those who gave the last full measure of devotion in order that America could be a beacon of justice and a hope for the world. Along with revering God and the slimming down of pork-belly government, a stout education system can return us to that direction. But we have no time to lose. Viewing Waiting For Superman could galvanize our citizenry.
I fear the less-stressful "3D" film will most likely win the weekend's box office take. Sorry, kids. I tried.
Waiting for Superman opens Sept. 24 in select theaters and is rated PG for some thematic material, mild language and incidental smoking. Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective for Baptist Press and is the author of "Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad."