What does the provocative new documentary, Waiting for Superman, mean for Catholic schools in America? I hope quite a lot.
It appears from experts and popular attention that “Waiting for Superman” is going to make waves. Even Oprah did a show on the film (see video link above) and expressed outrage over what she saw in the film. Reading the signs of the times, I think its fair to predict that Davis Guggenheim’s newest “shockumentary” is going to be as big as his last, An Inconvenient Truth. This has massive implications for ed-reform and also, I believe, for Catholic schools.
In his blog post yesterday, John Schoenig quoted Whitney Tilson’s critique of the NY Times article about Archbishop Dolan’s plan to revitalize Catholic education in New York. Tilson said:
Too bad the article doesn’t deal with the much bigger issue: the utter INSANITY, from a societal perspective, of allowing inner-city Catholic schools – which are often oases of safety, discipline and rigor – to close, while throwing massively more money at catastrophically failing public schools nearby. Why not give parents a choice…
Waiting for Superman appears to focus on parents trying to get their kids into Charter schools. But the theme is the same. The issue is the same. Parents deserve choices, and as Tilson suggests, Catholic schools that are “oases of safety, discipline and rigor” represent one of the most important choices available in America’s urban neighborhoods. But as waves of Catholic schools close nationally, year after year, this choice is quickly disappearing. It is hard to over-estimate how dire this situation has become. 1,500 Catholic schools have closed nationally since 2000. That’s a loss of roughly 20% in one decade!
So, God willing, Waiting for Superman will send shock waves into the system. It seems likely that it will further break the hegemony of teachers unions. This will present a critically important opportunity and momentum for change.
Needless to say, this film is a must see. The big question will be: how best can we act upon the righteous outrage that will surely follow? Time to get ready, get involved, and get organized.