The 1950s Superman (George Reeves) that Geoffrey Canada was waiting for...
It's clear that the United States continues to fall behind the rest of the world in the quality of public
education. Last Friday, there was a lot of buzz around the $100 million challenge grant that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was giving to the Newark, New Jersey schools to reform.
There's also a new documentary from the Oscar-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, director of "An Inconvenient Truth," that takes on the task of dissecting the public education system. I read a big piece in Time magazine about his film Waiting
For Superman which opened last Friday.
Whether the film will get to enough people or inspire them to take action remains to be seen. I have very mixed feeling about the film and I haven't even gone into a theater to see it yet.
It bothers me to see parents and kids praying that they win a lottery to get into the better school in their city. I agree that tenure is outdated but I haven't seen a good alternative. Merit pay based on standardized tests doesn't seem to be a solution. Then again, I have trouble listening to a teachers' union president fight back so hard that it seems like they oppose any change.
Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone in New York, gets a lot of attention in the film (and appeared on Oprah's show with Zuckerberg). Canada's organization tries to increase high school and college graduation rates among students in Harlem. He's the "rockstar" reformer in director Guggenheim's film. The documentary looks at Canada's successes and follows the lives of several talented children.
The film's title comes from Geoffrey Canada who says that as a kid he saw Superman on TV and thought that he would one day swoop in to save him and his classmates. Most of us doubt that any one hero armed with either millions of dollars, political power or charismatic words about achievement is going to fly into our midst and make things right.
Watching the kids families in the film (even in the preview trailer) waiting to hear if their kid can leave their substandard schools for a mediocre one is suspenseful and sad. They ARE waiting for a Superman in the form of a school.
The film hits at the teachers unions pretty hard. I'm not in one now. I was in one for 25 years. It's the one that NJ Governor Cristie hates. The film, Christie, and plenty of other people accuse the unions of putting politics and salaries ahead of pupils. But that's as simplistic a reason for failing schools as waiting for a Superman is a fool's solution.
Several reviewers have said that Guggenheim doesn't hit as hard or make a film as one-sided as another big documentary director, Michael Moore. In fact, Guggenheim makes a confession of sorts in the film when he explains that he drives by some of these failing public schools every morning - to take his kids to private schools.
It's good that people are talking.
Visit waitingforsuperman.com to watch the film trailer and clips, and learn more about what you can do. Oprah Winfrey jumped on this early last week and then she did a show Friday about the $100 million challenge as a kind of followup to the show about the movie. Geoffrey Canada appears on both shows. There is some good discussion online and video of Zuckerberg, Christie, Booker and Canada at http://www.oprah.com/showinfo/
His three eclectic readings for grad students are:
Piled Higher and Deeper: A Graduate Student Comic Strip Collection If you've gone anywhere near an academic building in the past 10 years, chances are you've seen a photocopied excerpt from Jorge Cham's hilarious comic strip, Piled Higher and Deeper, taped to an office door, probably next to a takeout menu and a photo of some post-doctoral fellow's Labrador retriever wearing a hat. The strip chronicles a nameless grad student's struggle through an engineering Ph.D. program; it has now been published in four volumes that offer insight while hitting horrifyingly close to home.
Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage For reassurance that others have undertaken far riskier missions and somehow survived... In 1914, a party of 28 men led by Sir Ernest Shackleton sails for Vahsel Bay, planning to make the first overland crossing of Antarctica. When their ship becomes stuck in pack ice, they decide to camp until the spring thaw, only to watch the boat get crushed rather than released. Much like grad school, Endurance is a tale of optimists embarking blithely on a mission of discovery for discovery's sake, then becoming hopelessly entrenched in a situation that overwhelms them. The story also offers encouragement: No matter how boring you find your department's next seminar, at least you aren't clinging to an ice floe in the Weddell Sea while being attacked by a sea leopard.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation Lynne Truss's short but emphatic campaign against improper punctuation encourages and empowers the reader to traipse across the landscape of print media, armed with Wite-Out and a Sharpie, deleting or adding the world's extraneous or missing apostrophes. Full of jokes and anecdotes, and featuring a list of fitting punishments for those who confuse "its" and "it's," this book is perfect for any grad student — and even more perfect for the undergrad who sent you the e-mail that began, "im in ur 10:00 class, can i have xtension ."
It's getting to the point that when you say search, people think Google. Maybe you also use Bing or Yahoo, but there are also other search engines.
David Kapuler a K-12 media and technology specialist, made a list of search engines useful for educators. I will admit to never having used or heard of any of them. But they really do take different approaches to search - tag clouds, visual search etc.
For example, I typed in my own name into the Oamos search engine and got a screen full of my life online in several acts. Quite interesting. Even a bit scary in what it was able to piece together from my online droppings.