Superman: the Missing Link in American Education

ENGLISH- TERM 1 2013 ‘Waiting for Superman’ Documentary Analysis- Multimedia Presentation ENGLISH- TERM 1 2013 ‘Waiting for Superman’ Documentary Analysis- Multimedia Presentation ‘I get paid whether you learn or not’ - Superman: the Missing Link in American Education introduction. This is not something that you would hope to hear a teacher say when dropping your child off at a school which could determine their future. Sadly, as shown in the documentary ‘Waiting for Superman’, this is the attitude that many students are faced with as soon as they enter the school gates.

Good morning/afternoon fellow documentary enthusiasts, I am …………and I am very pleased to be your guest speaker at this years ‘Australian Documentary Film Festival’ and present to you “Superman: The Missing Link in American Education”. The documentary ‘Waiting for Superman’ produced by David Guggenheim was released on the 22nd of January 2010. The main question that producer David Guggenheim aims to answer is ‘Why are American public school students so far behind? Guggenheim brings to the audience’s attention many reasons why this is the case in the American Education System including teachers unions, where the school is situated and the major difference between public and private education. ‘Waiting for Superman succeeds in convincing the audience that the public school system and the teachers within it are failing Americas students, but only by its use of bias and cleverly chosen positioning techniques.

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All of the statistics provided in ‘Waiting for Superman’ were true but Guggenheim failed to bring to the surface some key facts about charter schools therefore he painted an inaccurate picture of the true differences between public and private education. All though this bias is present, the documentary still manages to persuade the audience that the reason for the students failing is the public school system. ‘Waiting for Superman’ follows five primary school students in the failing public education system.

The students’ parents want to give their children the education that they never had, but struggle to make ends meet with all the loop holes that are present in the American education system. The documentary goes into detail on what is making the American student perform badly, the academic sink holes that are present in American schools and the choices that some families have to make just to get their children a suitable education, such as where they live, how and where they can afford to go and how much they can provide for their children.

The controversial issue of student lotteries and tracking is looked at very closely as Guggenheim aims to convince the viewer of his version of the story. Student lotteries are common in America and I will now show you how one works in the education system. The issues brought up are cleverly positioned so that the viewer becomes emotionally attached and in turn believes in what Guggenheim set out to show, which is that the Public education system is failing. Waiting for Superman’ is positively biased towards the charter school system in America and other countries are seen as the protagonists in education compared to America. Charter schools are the equivalent to the Australian private school. This bias nature is shown by Guggenheim positioning the viewer to believe that charter schools are the only way in which children might succeed, therefore supporting his depiction of the truth that the public school system is the problem.

On further research however, it can be seen that most Charter Schools perform at the same level or worse than public schools in America. The viewer is sucked into his emotion ridden tale of students who are left behind because of public schooling. Geoffrey Canada is consistently interviewed on his opinions of the education system, Canada is the one in which the idea of the title ‘Waiting For Superman’ came from as he recalls at the very beginning of the documentary his mother telling him that superman did not exist, I will now show you this small section from ‘Waiting for Superman’ .

As you just saw Canada really thought that someone would be there to make things better and along with many American school children he now knows that no one with the powers great enough is going to come and save America. With montages showing the ‘good old days’ of the public education system before the unions became involved and music to match the educational success of fifty years ago, ‘Waiting for Superman’ succeeds in persuading the audience that the public education system and the teachers within it is at fault with the students ailing. If watching this documentary you would very soon realise that Guggenheim is bombarding you with many different documentary techniques. Viewers become witness to heart wrenching interviews as Guggenheim aims to tackle the problems of education face-to-face, while side-steeping into interviews and archival footage of Bill Gates, George Bush, Geoffrey Canada and Michelle Rhee which sensationalise the charter school system and take aim at public schools.

Guggenheim’s sympathetic approach to the five children who are followed throughout the documentary brings out the truth that he wants us to see in the education system, while still staying professional and believable. Guggenheim’s choice of interviews, statistics, intertitle snippets, archival and present footage and montages sell the documentary to those who may have children in a failing education system or who are passionate about education.

One section that I found showed a great example of how different public education and private education were the small sections of animated footage shown in ‘Waiting for Superman’. I will show you some of these now on the screen behind me. In reaction to the bias nature of ‘Waiting for Superman’ another documentary produced by Grassroots Education Movement titled ‘The Inconvenient Truth behind Waiting for Superman’ was released to show the important facts that the original documentary left out.

The title of the documentary is a play-off of words with another of Guggenheim’s documentaries titled ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. ‘Waiting for Superman’ excels in convincing the viewers that the teaching system is the cause of the American Students lack of success through its vast web of documentary techniques and clear bias towards charter schools. While leaving out illuminating information about charter schools, Guggenheim still manages to convince the audience that the Public education system and teachers within the system are the cause for the failings of the American Student.

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