With An Inconvenient Truth, documentarian Davis Guggenheim and former vice president Al Gore set out to save the world from an environmental cataclysm beyond the imagination of even Roland Emmerich. With his muckraking new exposé Waiting For Superman, Guggenheim wants to make sure we have a society worth saving. Having tackled global warming, he’s now moved on to another important issue: turning around a failing public-school system that should be the shame of our nation.
Waiting For Superman surveys a grim academic realm where powerful teachers’ unions reward apathy and treading water, rather than innovative thinking or excellence, and the only test where American students consistently score high is on academic self-confidence. We aren’t No. 1, but we labor under the delusion that we represent the apex of academic accomplishment. With outrage, sadness, and compassion, Guggenheim examines the root causes of this public-school meltdown and offers suggestions for breaking the gridlock afflicting our educational system, most notably in the form of charter schools unbound by the institutional inertia that’s killing our schools.
Guggenheim begins Waiting For Superman by trying to reconcile his leftist politics and belief in the importance of strong public institutions with his more pragmatic desire to provide a superior education for his children. Like An Inconvenient Truth, Superman can sometimes feel more like a lecture and an info-dump than a gripping narrative, but to his credit, Guggenheim never lets us forget the high, human stakes involved in saving public schools from themselves. Guggenheim posits charter schools as potential saviors, and there’s tremendous drama and suspense in watching parents who want only the best for their children pin their hopes and aspirations on a lottery that determines which kids get into charter schools. Superman argues convincingly that everyone should have the right to a good education, not just folks lucky enough to score winning numbers: It should be a birthright, not a matter of chance.