Superman is Already Here

Before you read this post, please take a moment to go on a field trip to do the following:

Walk to the nearest mirror you can find, look at yourself in the eyes for about 30 seconds, then come back.

Image licensed from iStockphoto.com

Hello Superman, it’s nice to meet you. Please understand that I use Superman in the general sense, whether you are a man or a woman. Yes, you are Superman.

I am offering this post to contribute to blogger Tom Whitby’s call for education reform ideas (he calls it REBELS – Reforms from Educational Bloggers Links of Educational Suggestions). In the past few weeks, there has been much discussion in the national spotlight about what we need to “fix” education. There was the special on MSNBC, Education Nation; the film Waiting for Superman; Oprah Winfrey’s show with David Guggenheim, Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee; and a FutureofEducation.com/Edutopia panel discussion in Elluminate that have contributed to the dialog.

I listened to the FutureofEducation.com/Edutopia panel discussion and attended the Buffalo premiere of Waiting for Superman (which included a panel discussion with local educational leaders/politicians), and have been trying to keep up with the various posts and tweets flying around related to the issue.

I will share some of my reactions to the Buffalo premiere of Waiting for Superman and the panel discussion, as it was a good opportunity to localize the national discussion.

  • The event was organized by BuffaloRefomEd, a fledgling group looking to improve the education system. Since they were able to bring together the Superintendent of the Buffalo schools, the president of the Buffalo Teachers union, the New York State assemblyman for Buffalo, among others, BuffaloReformEd appears to have its act together.
  • The audience was probably heavy on the charter school supportive side, not surprisingly as the tone of the movie is pro-charter schools.
  • Personally, I think the angle of the movie, with its fire-the-teachers, get-rid-of-tenure, unions-are-bad tone spent more time on attractive easy solutions that really are not solutions. No one wants bad teachers – but in the big picture, I think the amount of “bad” teachers is a minuscule amount, and they don’t make it in the long run. Are there problems in the system with some teachers? Sure, but that is true of any employer/employee organization.
  • Charter schools are a great choice. Are all charter schools great? No. Are some out-performing the public schools? You bet. One of the main points in the movie is that some charter schools are finally making a difference in performance scores for students on standardized tests. The real problem here is that the charter schools are measuring themselves on the very standardized tests that are the greater issue in education. I do not know if charter schools, who pride themselves on being different, should celebrate with the same measures that public schools use in order to prove their value.
  • In the panel discussion, the head of a local charter school made the statement (I’m paraphrasing):  The purpose of K-12 education is to prepare students for post-secondary education. Yikes – I’m not sure that is the purpose of K-12 schools. What happened to preparing students to become productive, contributing members of society? Not every path leads to post-secondary education.
  • At the end of the discussion (all too brief at only 30-40 minutes), the superintendent of Buffalo and the local assemblyman pledged to reconvene a panel for a longer discussion at a later time. Dialogue is always good, but…

We don’t have time to talk about what needs to be done. Superman is here – it’s you, it’s me, and it’s every person who has direct influence on helping kids succeed. It is the parent, the neighbor, the teacher, the mailman, the uncle, the teacher, the principal, the union leader, the grocery clerk, etc. I know, this sounds a lot like the “it takes a community to raise a child” shtick, but it’s true.

Every one of the students portrayed in the movie has a Superman. It is the parent/guardian, who all said they would do anything in the world to help their child. It does not matter what school they get in – those kids have a superman looking out for them.

Charter schools have by their nature lots of Supermen. Those who choose to create their own system, their own school, take on a huge challenge. By their nature, those in charter schools are demonstrating superman qualities.

Public schools are full of Supermen. Every single day, they take on the daily challenges of meeting the needs of the students in their class. The challenges are very different depending on where you live. I live and teach in an affluent suburban district. We have many challenges every day with every one of our students. The daily challenges we face are vastly different from the challenges faced by those in the urban schools. Still, every day we go in to do what we can for every single one of those we work with.

We can have all the panel discussions we want. We can make all the movies we want. We can get the best thinkers and politicians in the world together to talk for hours, days, weeks or months. It won’t matter – that’s just talk.

What will matter is the work you do with whatever kids you have a direct connection with. It might be your own kids, it might be the kids you teach, the kids you administer, or the kids on the block. What matters more is you may have to reach out and help kids you see who have a need, but no one to help them. You may have to intervene when kids you work with do not get what they need. Education reform is you, doing whatever you can, whenever you can, no matter what.

No more time to read now, Superman, you have work to do. Important work.

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