| Families living in Johnson County take for granted the quality education provided to students in the Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and Olathe school districts. Unfortunately, this is the exception rather than the rule as pointed out by this important documentary from Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”).
Guggenheim, who serves as narrator, has a guilty conscience because he sends his own children to an expensive private school rather than the public one in his Los Angeles neighborhood. “I’m lucky, I have a choice,” admits Guggenheim.
The movie makes cogent arguments that the public education system in this country is broken and needs fixing. The United States was the best in the world in education up to the 1970s, but since then has declined rapidly to currently rank 23rd out of 29 developed countries. American kids are No. 1 in confidence, but their proficiency in math and reading measured by test scores indicate a failure to live up to the “no child left behind” promise of former President George W. Bush.
The movie backs up the charts and graphs by putting individual faces in front of the camera. The human interest stories of Anthony Black, Washington, D.C.; Daisy Esparza, East Los Angeles; Bianca Hill, Harlem, N.Y.; Francisco Regalado, Bronx, N.Y.; and Emily Jones, Redwood City, Calif., form an engrossing foundation that eventually leads to heartbreaking lotteries for spots in successful schools rather than the local “dropout factories” or “academic sinkholes.”
The most enthusiastic and entertaining personality in the movie is educator Geoffrey Canada. He has set up several independently run charter schools in Harlem that guarantee a college degree for their students. He has turned around a dropout rate and shattered the poverty line myth.
The title of the movie springs from his own childhood disappointment when his mother told him that Superman didn’t exist and that nobody was coming to save him from the hardships of growing up.
The movie stresses the importance of good teachers and champions charter schools. It perceives the enemy to be teachers unions whose contracts tie the hands of educators and reformers. The other culprit is the lack of accountability from a vast bureaucracy subjected to a tangled mess of rules, agendas and conflicting standards.
This startling, eye-opening documentary should provide the impetus for a social action campaign ensuring that every child receives a great education.
Television talk show host Oprah Winfrey has been publicly promoting this movie and Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates makes a cameo appearance in the film. Grammy winner John Legend was so inspired by the film that he wrote the song “Shine” that plays over the end credits. Many consider this the frontrunner to win the Oscar for Best Song.
This important, gut-wrenching film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and won the Audience Award for Best Documentary. It looks to be a strong candidate to duplicate that feat at the Academy Awards. Opening exclusively at the Glenwood Arts and AMC Mainstreet.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"