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Kyle Smith (Twitter: @rkylesmith) is critic-at-large for National Review, theater critic for The New Criterion and the author of the novels Love Monkey and A Christmas Caroline. Type a title in the box above to locate a review.

Buy Love Monkey for $4! "Hilarious"--Maslin, NY Times. "Exceedingly readable and wickedly funny romantic comedy"--S.F. Chronicle. "Loud and brash, a helluva lot of fun"--Entertainment Weekly. "Engaging romp, laugh-out-loud funny"-CNN. "Shrewd, self-deprecating, oh-so-witty. Smith's ruthless humor knows no bounds"--NPR

Buy A Christmas Caroline for $10! "for those who prefer their sentimentality seasoned with a dash of cynical wit. A quick, enjoyable read...straight out of Devil Wears Prada"--The Wall Street Journal

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    Teachers’ Unions Protesting “Waiting for ‘Superman'”

    By Kyle | September 24, 2010

    Right outside the Lincoln Square multiplex on the Upper West Side — perhaps the nation’s premier movie showcase — the goons’ rodeo known as the teachers’ unions has organized a little shoutathon meant to deter patrons going to see Davis Guggenheim’s thrillingly honest schools documentary “Waiting for Superman.” Groups are standing in circles chanting slogans, holding signs, generally ruckusing. (I think some of the protesters were pro-the movie, but there was so much noise I couldn’t be sure.)

    How smart is it of the teachers’ unions to organize a protest against a documentary? They are bound to stir up the kind of controversy that is the surest (indeed, the only) way of driving a significant audience to a nonfiction film.

    I was handed a pamphlet marked, “THE TRUTH about Charter Schools in New York City.” (It’s published by something called “GEM” or “Grassroots Education Movement,” an obvious front group for teachers’ unions that is the opposite of grassroots since it defends the single most powerful special interest group.) Open it up, and what do we see? Here is the first sentence:

    Access to a high quality public education is not something that should not be won in a lottery — it is a most basic human and civil right.

    I read the sentence four times. Did it really say what I thought it said? Did it use a double negative to aver that access to a high quality public education is something that should be won in a lottery? Yep. Think of all the effort that went into organizing, writing, editing, printing and distributing this leaflet. And no one along the line caught that error. Really doesn’t restore your confidence in the teachers’ unions, does it?

    The pamphlet makes the standard, irrelevant cherry-picking case. Charter schools are better because they pick out the best students with the best, most motivated parents. The lemons are left behind to be wrestled with by overcome public schools (who, natch, want “smaller class sizes, equitable funding, union protections”…in other words, money, money and even more barriers to firing bad teachers). But so what if the cherries are being picked? Even if 5 percent of the kids in dropout factories can be saved by charter schools, isn’t saving 5 percent better than saving zero percent? I have a feeling that a lot more than 5 percent can be brought up to speed, though.

    Give it up, teachers’ unions. The reform train is leaving the station. Be on it, or be under it. Even the New York Times is (grudgingly) admitting this film is kinda powerful, as see this review, which is absolutely buried on the arts section of the Times’ website. (The praise is tempered, though: the reviewer believes the film should acknowledge that a factor in the schooling crisis is “the despair of the underclass.” Talk about confusing cause and effect. Hey, underclass, your despair got you into this mess! Buck up, why don’t you? I’m a bit stunned that that little remark made it past an editor, but that’s the Times for you. )

    Topics: Movies | 24 Comments »

    24 Responses to “Teachers’ Unions Protesting “Waiting for ‘Superman'””

    1. concerned advocate Says:
      September 24th, 2010 at 10:57 pm

      just for the record… the folks out there tonight had NOTHING to do with the union. Several of the people that were apparently making too much noise, were parents, and the overwhelming majority of the educators present are not UFT Unity folks. Grassroots Education Movement (there was also a sep. group there unrelated to us w/ all the signs) is an organization of dedicated educators and community members. We work with groups across the city. See the trailer for our upcoming documentary (The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman) @

      Finally, I apologize for the error in the brochure. It is unfortuante, but sometimes mistakes do happen, especially when you are working full time, have a family, and then spend what little free time you have scrambling to protect public education from the privatization agenda of corporate and hedge fund rich folk. As teachers we are not perfect, although I know we are expected to be and the slightest error (like using not in a sentence twice) may give you cause to mock us, but it does not erase the facts laid out in the brochure.

    2. Koz Seleb Says:
      September 24th, 2010 at 11:27 pm

      My copy of the brochure,’Truth about Charter Schools in New York City’, dated August 2009, states:”Access to a high quality public education is not something that should be won in a lottery – it is a most basic human and civil right. There is no double negative there. To assure you, I am looking at the brochure right in front of me. If we are reading the same edition of the brochure, I would advise you to check your vision carefully. After reading it four times, the double negative might be in effect you experiencing ‘double vision’.

    3. karla Says:
      September 25th, 2010 at 12:40 am

      You have it wrong I’m afraid. No teacher’s union was behind our protest. We teachers organized this protest completely independent of either the UFt or the AFT, and that’s the truth. The unions, despite the film’s premise (filmed 3 years ago) have been giving into the reforms. They will not pubically protest this film or the untruths that the “deformers” are putting out there (remember the reformers have Gates behind them.)

      We teachers are in the classroom. Our jobs are difficult, and we get so little support. We predicted years ago that charters were not the answer (they fared really poorly in New York, as indicated by test scores released this summer.) Also, you cannot blame teachers or their unions for what is wrong with the schools. This is a complicated societal issue that needs to be thought out carefully, and will not be fixed in a politician’s 4-year deadline.
      Anyway, please make sure that you understand: teachers do not want their unions to give into these reforms,in order that their states can get Race to the Top Money — which is just blackmail in these tough economic times.

    4. JohnFNWayne Says:
      September 25th, 2010 at 12:55 am

      The local unions, liberal media members and politicos have been at war with the local charter schools for years. The State AG tried to get involved, trying to investigate “fraud,” before he lost his job due to multiple drunken sexual harassment claims.

      After five years of constant bombardment, the front page of the website had this bomb on its front cover: “Eight of top ten local schools are charter schools.”

      I married into a family of teachers, heard their cries of “despair,” and it almost always involve everything not associated with giving students a better education. If you want proof, google retire-rehire.

      The future of American education, maybe the present, is General Motors. Take an eye-full of GM, and its basically the same situation on a lot of levels. Entrenched bureaucratic management, hired not by expertise but through networking, beating one side of the horse while a corrupt union beats the other.

      If you want your local school district to improve, it starts with banning the union.

    5. Jack from Central NJ Says:
      September 25th, 2010 at 10:38 pm

      Have you ever thought this through, Kyle? The cherry picking case is valid, even as the studies show that charter schools, as a whole, perform no better than traditional schools.

      And if you thought deeper, you’d realize that a charter school’s student has a better teacher-student ratio than a traditional school. So where are the costs savings? I’ll tell you. The charter schools can ignore special needs kids. Behavior problems, mentally and physically challenged. Dyslexic. Anorexic. Abused. Drug-addicted. Bullied. Pregnant. Sexually conflicted. Even the gifted child may be too much to handle for a charter school. If a kid turns out to be afflicted with one of the above issues, boot him or her back to the ‘regular’ school. Keep those stats looking bright. Some charter schools can even save on capital plant – since they live on corporate donations… until that well runs dry.

      A CS often doesn’t have to maintain as large a guidance staff (remember them?), a gym, or a ceramics shop. Or maintain a large security staff. Or a nurse. They can just leech off the nearby traditional school’s budget.

      We know that charter schools are just a thinly veiled ruse to bust the union. Your argument that the teacher-student ratio is irrelevant (i.e. more teachers and therefore more dollars), is capricious and contradictory. The ratio is exactly where charters make their claim of success: they can give their students more individualized attention. And how can that ‘business model’ work? By offering lower compensation to the teacher.

      Great. So now you’re a certified rookie teacher with certification a 3.9 GPA from a solid state teachers’ college. Where do you choose to work? A traditional school, which will compensate you for your professional training, and grad school credits? And a chance for tenure, where you wouldn’t have to worry about the red-necked parent demanding your head after you disciplined his kid by keeping him from a wrestling meet after he disrupted your math class for the tenth time?

      Or will you jump at the chance to work for a charter school offering a lifelong 1970 CPI adjusted wage of $35K guaranteed, limited bennies, and professional training opportunities limited to what you can pay out of pocket?

      I don’t know what world you live in, but I want to compensate my teachers so that I can attract good ones – and keep them. I want to help them in their professional development. Once in a while a lemon will show up, yes. But I’m willing to take that risk, and pay that price.

      What we really need is good vetting before tenure is awarded, and perhaps a longer probationary period – say 5 years instead of 3. I think that compromise is pragmatic.

      But you’re on the outside. You’ve never taught. You have never walked in a teacher’s shoes. You’re clueless and judgmental. You don’t know what a teacher does, but you sing the same sad teacher-bashing song that thousands of other ignoramuses do. Try teaching for a couple of months, if you can. Walk the walk.

    6. Oslo Says:
      September 26th, 2010 at 6:19 pm

      What we need is:
      1. ABOLISH tenure. I don’t have it where I work, no one I know has it.
      2. Stop spending money on special “helpers”. In my state, if there is ONE child who, say speaks only Mandarin Chinese, the school district MUST hire someone to basically ACCOMPANY that child to every class as his or her assistant. This is a COLOSSAL waste of money. I’m sorry but in what we call REALITY, we must choose priorities. And while it would be nice to provide a personal assistant to every student, there are and will always be limited resources. We have to choose priorities.

    7. boqueronman Says:
      September 26th, 2010 at 6:29 pm

      Actually, I sort of agree with the commenters here. The charter schools acquire students who are either better qualified on the basis of intelligence scores or who come from families, even lower income ones, whose parents are more concerned, and thus involved in their education. Their performance, all things considered, is almost certain to exceed the achievements of public school students.

      That said, the real issue is not the relative performance of charter schools – or home schooled and private schools, each of which produces superior performance – versus public schools. The issue is the deterioration of public school productivity as measured by standard test scores and by comparative cross country achievement indices. By either of these measures U.S. public schools have been educational disaster zones for decades. Too much of the increased spending per pupil has gone to school system personnel salaries and benefits and the addition of countless administrative, i.e. non-teaching, employees.

      I have a book which shows a portion of the 1885 entrance examination for prospective students at the Jersey City High School. Here is a sample math question (the others equally challenging). “Write a homogeneous quadrinomial of the third degree. Express the cube root of 10ax in two ways.” Remember this is an exam to enter HIGH SCHOOL.

      Instead of arguing about whether or not charter schools perform better, maybe the teachers and their union reps should concern themselves with incorporating parent concerns about why “Johnny still can’t read.” Accept the dismal results, stop making excuses and be proactive, not perpetually defensive in finding answers. And, clearly, throwing good money after bad is not the answer. You will find more allies that way.

    8. blackhawk12151 Says:
      September 26th, 2010 at 8:52 pm

      Let me summarize Jack’s comment:

      Teachers shouldn’t be judged on their accomplishments because these kids are a bunch of screw-up head-cases. Also, some parents might demand accountability from us.

      I’ve never been more glad I went to private school. I think I’ll call my parents and tell them thanks right now.

    9. Norm Scott Says:
      September 26th, 2010 at 9:54 pm

      I was one of the organizers of the Friday event and if you ask anyone in the UFT hierarchy I have been one of their biggest critics for 40 years. And many of the rallying Real Reformers have run with the opposition to the UFT leaders for many years.

      Your misreading of this rally as being union instigated is a sign of just how out of touch you are. The reform train crashed in Fenty/Rheeville about 10 seconds after leaving the station and is coming apart as the very people you all are trying to manipulated into privatizing the public schools for your fun and profit are increasingly rejecting the deformers. You guys are the new status quo.

      Congratulations on your great discovery, clearly along the lines of making you the new Columbus, of an extra “not” in a pamphlet of two thousand words. I take responsibility for that “not” due the failing eyesight of a proud retired public school/unionized teacher who spent 35 years teaching elementary school in the inner city in Brooklyn, NY.

      What’s your excuse?

      Oh, and exactly what was the class size in that private school you went to where your parents obviously wasted an enormous amount of money? You better thank them.

    10. blackhawk12151 Says:
      September 26th, 2010 at 11:03 pm

      Norm, are you familiar with the term shill? That’s what you are. People like you resist reform because you don’t want to be judged on your merits. My mom left the public school system for private schools because she was sick of the tenure jockeys sitting back and collecting paychecks while their students prepared themselves for prison.

      I feel bad for your students. Clearly you care more about securing your employment and benefits further.

      And I am sick of hearing teachers complain about their “thankless” jobs. If it’s so thankless quit and do something else.

    11. JohnFNWayne Says:
      September 26th, 2010 at 11:19 pm

      Class size, class size … blah blah blah … class size class size.

      And color me shocked – good students rather go to charter schools. That’s unfair.

      If this thread isn’t absurd enough, just remember, these people are also educating your children.

    12. Laurie Says:
      September 28th, 2010 at 3:29 pm

      Curious whether the protesters actually saw the movie.

      And, yeah, what JohnFNWayne says.

    13. Brandon Says:
      September 28th, 2010 at 4:27 pm

      Wow. The union hacks are out in force! Problem of course is no one is buying it anymore.

      I recall when I was in middle school the teacher’s union was having some sort of pension dispute with the state (ie taxpayers) and the teachers did everything but pay us to all walk out of class in protest. We were children we had no idea what we were protesting but they didn’t care because the children have always been nothing but pawns in union ponzi schemes.

    14. Kyle Says:
      September 28th, 2010 at 7:43 pm

      Dear Koz — if you are going to call me a liar, please reveal your real name. I don’t hide my identity. Why should you hide yours?

      Next please indicate the dollar amount you would like to bet that I’m telling the truth about the egregious and unintentionally hilarious error on the flyer. Note that two of your colleagues, writing on this blog, have already conceded the error was made.

    15. Kyle Says:
      September 28th, 2010 at 7:47 pm

      Karla, you say you’re not the teachers’ unions. You’re just…teachers who are members of unions. And you’re even more anti-reform than the teachers’ unions are. Pardon me for lumping you together with the union. I suppose every extremist group has members who think the group’s main problem is that it hasn’t gone far enough. I shudder.

    16. Kyle Says:
      September 28th, 2010 at 7:48 pm

      Oh, and Karla, since you evidently take no joy in your job, please vacate it and allow a better and more motivated teacher to take your place. Don’t let the door hit you on the, etc.

    17. Bo Says:
      September 30th, 2010 at 4:47 pm

      To the teachers on this thread:

      Please tell me why education has gotten so poor in this country? Kids are spending more time in the classroom and there is more money than ever before (adjusted for inflation). So if the kids are spending more time in class and schools have more money, why is the education worse? Please don’t tell me that it is a complicated issue. Go ahead and try to give me an answer. You’re an educator, please educate me.

      Secondly, why should teachers get tenure? No one other profession has a guaranteed job. Why should your’s be guaranteed? Also, my job is performance based. Why shouldn’t your’s be performanced based? The irony is that you grade children based on their performance.

      I’m not trying to be patronizing or snarky…I’m really curious as to your answer.

    18. Nyarlathotep Says:
      October 1st, 2010 at 12:11 am

      Hey, Kyle:

      I’m a certified ESL teacher who puts in seven hours a day, back to back, with no lunch break, for 30 Gs a year… and who is proudly NON-union. If the self-righteous union hacks on this thread truly cared about their students or the dissemination of knowledge, they’d work the way I do — for pure love of the job, at market rate — instead of griping about how and “under-appreciated” they are.

      Give ’em hell, Kyle.

    19. blackhawk12151 Says:
      October 1st, 2010 at 7:55 am

      @ Nyarlathotep

      Awesome name

    20. newton Says:
      October 1st, 2010 at 1:11 pm

      I recently received a catalog from the Calvert School in MD. Calvert also has one of the oldest and time-tested home-schooling curricula in the country.

      Parents who take it into their own hands to make sure their kids get the education they truly deserve are the teacher’s unions worst nightmare.

      After I read from a past president of the NEA say “When the kids begin to pay union dues, that’s when we’ll start advocating for them”, I KNEW I would not allow a single union-bound teacher to be five feet away from my daughters.

    21. John in Michigan, USA Says:
      October 7th, 2010 at 5:22 pm

      Great post, Kyle.

      The first three comments apparently are from teachers. Each comment has serious spelling, usage, and punctuation errors, or suffers from awkward style.

      concerned advocate Says:
      September 24th, 2010 at 10:57 pm

      “(there was also a sep. group there unrelated to us w/ all the signs)” Make this a separate sentence.

      “unfortuante” Seriously?

      Koz Seleb Says:
      September 24th, 2010 at 11:27 pm

      “To assure you” This is a very uncommon construction. Be assured, improving your writing is my cause célèbre!

      karla Says:
      September 25th, 2010 at 12:40 am

      “You have it wrong I’m afraid.” Perhaps you’re missing a period. Be afraid! Or, if you were just being polite, I’m afraid you’re missing a comma.

      “the film’s premise (filmed 3 years ago)” If the premise was filmed three years ago, when was the actual film made?

      “giving into the reforms” This sounds like they donated financially to the reforms, rather than giving in to them.

      “in order that their states can get” What will it take, in order for the writing to get better?

      Yes, I am mocking them. Yes, they deserve it.

    22. Gary Says:
      October 14th, 2010 at 4:09 pm


      What makes you think all of these teachers specialize in English grammar? My most inspiring Science teacher taught us by letting us make discoveries for ourselves as we conducted experiments. It is exciting and fun! I could care less if he commented on a blog and made a grammatical error or two. He was, and still is, an awesome teacher and an inspiration.

      The teachers on this site are writing from thier hearts, with strong emotions. I’m sure they did not consider this a formal manuscript that needed to be proof-read (sorry John if “proof-read” is wrong – I didn’t bother to google it like you will).

      Hey I’m impressed with your gramatical skills. How did you get such slightly above average skills? Oh, you learned from a teacher.

      You better edit your comment. One of several mistakes from you: “concerned advocate Says:” The word “Says” should not be capitalized. Hey, aren’t you using “concerned advocate” as a proper noun? LOL, watch your capital letters! Oh, I’m sorry John! I used LOL, how improper of me.

    23. John in Michigan, USA Says:
      October 14th, 2010 at 7:11 pm


      My favorite teacher was Mrs. Colby, biology. Kids will tend to emulate their favorite teacher in all ways, not just in the subjects that teacher teaches. So, clear writing should be second nature to any teacher; it shouldn’t matter if they are writing a formal paper or a quick, impromptu defense on a blog.

      Also, context matters. If this were, for example, a celebrity gossip site, informality and stream-of-consciousness rants are all part of the fun. But we are discussing a serious issue; for kids in a failing school, these issues are, in some cases literally, a matter a matter of life and death. Teachers could spare a few moments to set a good example.

      Proof-read is correct, thanks for caring. LOL has now entered the language, just as PDQ or ASAP did in the past. Even the goofy stuff like ‘teh’ is fine, if it is used with a good feel for the idiom. Languages gotta live!

      Sadly, as far as I can tell, their mistakes were just mistakes, and their passion was drowned in unintended irony. If you think otherwise, feel free to link to examples and prove me wrong!

      Perhaps ‘Says’ should have been ‘says’ but if you look closely, you will see I was copy-pasting that text, including the timestamp, in order to identify the other commenters uniquely. In other words, I was quoting them, but using whitespace instead of quotation marks. The issue of whether or not to correct someone’s writing when quoting them is complex, and generally a matter of individual preference.

      “There’s little point in writing if you can’t annoy somebody.”- Kingsley Amis (hat tip – Have I succeeded?

    24. Eric Says:
      March 22nd, 2014 at 6:50 am

      By focusing on these five kids and their hopeful families, Waiting for Superman puts a human face on a crisis worthy of a superhero.