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. )