Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Waiting for Superman

Last night I went to see Waiting for Superman. I wasn't sure what to expect, because everything I had read and heard about the movie was so conflicting. I was told the critics were raving, but somehow all the "smart people" that I follow on Twitter seemed to have nothing but distain for the film. In fact, I was somehow almost convinced that it would be disrespectful to my profession to even see the movie. But the curiosity in me won out. That and the offer of a free ticket sent via a former student's parent who is now a mentor with the SEED School of Maryland. How could I not at least take a peek.

Well, I am glad that I did. I am not saying that I thought everything in the movie was logical and made good sense. But the film is passionate, heart-wrenching, and thought-provoking. One of my favorite parts was listening to Michelle Rhee. What a dynamo! She is someone who seems to be doing what she feels is in the best interest of the students in DC, making hard decisions that have earned her many enemies along the way. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of teachers' unions, Michelle Rhee is one bold woman.

I also was so intrigued by Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone. His story, and the passion with which he now leads the charge for Education Reform, is nothing less than inspirational.

Although, I was thoroughly engaged during this movie and inwardly cheering for the children whose journey through the charter school lottery process was chronicled in the film, I nonetheless was left with questions after it ended. First of all, I wonder if charters schools see such success rates because the children whose parents enter them into the lottery in the first place are motivated, caring parents. Doesn't that already give these children a leg up over other at-risk, inner-city kids? How successful would these schools be if their constituents were a random sampling of the at-risk, inner-city kids? I know that may not be the point. As long as these schools are saving some of the chilren, then success is success. I think this is true to a point, but we need a solutions for all these kids, not just the ones with motivated parents.

I also did have to wonder about the lack of teacher voices and school representation in the film. Why were not the teachers interviewed; why did we not see the inside of the these failing schools? Are we really to believe that little Bianca's school would not even let her participate in the closing exercise just because her mother was a little behind in her payments? Or is there more to the story that the film maker wasn't willing to show us for sake of his storyline.
None of these questions that I have are reason to not see the film or even to be moved or motivated by it. We all need to ask these questions. We all need to look for the answers, as hard as it may be to find them or agree on what they are. These is not an issue limited to just a certain group of people. This is America's issue. We all need to care. If our schools fail, we fail.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

multi-dimensional reading

A colleague of mine has been using Google Earth with her students this year. They use it in their reading groups to follow the characters' travels in the books that they read. I thought, what a wonderful way to help the reading come alive for the students!

And this got me thinking. Why not do the same thing in my own personal reading? I love to read historical fiction, mainly books that deal with English history. Right now I am reading The King's Grace, by Anne Easter Smith, which tells the story of the two princes in the Tower during the reign of Richard III. I have for a long time recorded the interconnectedness of the historical figures that I encounter. I have a large family tree, which helps me keep track of how each is related to one another, and I use it to even connect historical figures from one book to another. I also like to use Wikipedia as another source to add background to my reading.

But now I am thinking that I need to add a new dimension to my reading. I want to try following my characters' travel through Google Earth. How wonderful it will be to know where Middleham is in relation to Westminster Palace or Sheriff Hutton, for example. And who knows. One day I might just have the opportunity to actually visit some of these places!