Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Removing Boots, Peering into Hats: Waiting for Superman, I Mean Godot, All Over Again

I expect that I, like many other public school educators, will make my way to a theater sometime soon to view Waiting for Superman.  I have only viewed the trailers and found Geoffrey Canada's story about learning there was no Superman to be most revealing. The story suggest much about the power of myth and its limitations, especially myths we use in order to distance ourselves from our actual civic and moral responsibilities in lieu of waiting for some "other" to save us. Canada says he lamented after his mother told him there was no Superman. He explained the source of his tears was, "There was no one coming with enough power to save us."  Cue the melancholy piano music and the images of burned-out projects.  It's clever. Perhaps even artful to a degree.  But we would be foolish to think it offers anything beyond a melancholy echo of a Reagan-like message from the 80s. Remember it was Ronald Reagan who said:
"You can't help those who simply will not be helped. One problem that we've had, even in the best of times, is people who are sleeping on the grates, the homeless who are homeless, you might say, by choice." (1.31.84, Good Morning America)
No sacrifice is needed to equalize health, education, and quality of life for the poor. To make a difference we only need to"take the pledge" to see the film.  Once again market values will save us.


In Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, the play follows two days in the live of Vladimir and Estragon, who remove boots, peer into hats all the time waiting for someone, they admit they cannot recognize,  to arrive. As Canada posits the idea of waiting for a power greater than oneself to save you, so too do Vladimir and Gogo endlessly wait for Godot.  The trailers and the hype I have read suggests that the film sets up public education in the role of  Lex Luthor, the "obvious" supervillian. Once again, I am reminded of Godot when early in the play, Vladimir remarks to Estragon: "There's man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet."  

The root challenges of public education in a capitalist society, driven by "market" values, is that the  inequity of the system must be maintained in its public schools in order for society's privileged to maintain their status. The gross characterization that public education is failing all of its students is hyperbolic for sure, but more importantly, it redirects our gaze from the stinky feet to the boots.  How much easier to blame public school teachers (not to be confused with charter school teachers) than address the societal and economic inequities that underlie learning.  Redistributing wealth and power is not offered as a solution, perhaps since 'wealth and power' are financing the charter school "movement" and not so surprisingly, the film. 

Waiting for Superman posits that the choice for salvation will be found in charter schools. This is a promise that is every bit as empty as the lives of Vladimir and Estragon who can't even summon the courage to put an end to their suffering.  We simply cannot afford to be fooled by this empty promise. Unfortunately, this "solution" is no better than Vladimir offering Estragon the choice between the turnip and the radish. Estragon selects the radish only to have to return it having found it to be blackened. 

As in the case of charter schools and radishes: Both deals are rotten.

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