The new documentary film WFS is causing quite a stir in edu-world. Haven't seen it yet. Four observations:
1. Movie critics tend to be liberal. These critics like Waiting For Superman. RottenTomatoes.com has it scored 52-to-4 liking the movie. That overwhelmingly positive response surprised me.
Who goes to documentaries? Left-leaning types. So I suspect moviegoers who aren't teachers will also like the movie.
2. Fueled by Oprah's backing, WFS is doing good business so far in limited release. From New York Magazine:
David Guggenheim’s education documentary Waiting for Superman continued to earn straight As, scoring the highest per-theater average of any film currently in release — and that includes The Social Network. True, Superman is only in 34 venues, but it averaged nearly $12,000 per engagement, bringing its gross to just-shy of $600,000.
3. If WFS hits $10 million gross, that's 1 million such ticket buyers who will walk out having internalized Guggenheim's message.
There are 5,000 charters or so, and about half in cities. So the movie will be somewhat equivalent to each of 2,500 urban charters having a 90 minute tour for 400 members of the community. My experience has been a) It's hard to get people to visit, but b) when they do, they typically like what they see (particularly any ad-hoc talking with kids).
What is Guggenheim's message? From a recent Phoenix interview:
Q: So what’s next for you?
A: I’m done, I’m spent. I am going to take a three-month nap. This one nearly killed me. This was the hardest movie I have ever made. I had many crises of conscience, or one extended one. It’s not like global warming, where you can get angry at a corporate polluter or Exxon. Here, I found that the things I held very close, the Democratic Party and unions, were part of the problem. To make a film exposing that was hard.
4. Several wise edu-observers have questioned whether the movie will lead to anything. Like this:
It could be argued that Waiting for Superman is terrific in that it is starting a national conversation. There’s something to that. I’m thrilled that education is on the minds of more Americans than ever.
But the post-movie conversation ought to start by saying “Okay, that was really fun. Now let’s get serious about what’s going on.”
But let’s put that “we know what works” talk back in the bottle, where it belongs. We’re a few steps into a long journey, and the more humility we bring along with us, the better.
I can't emphasize that enough. I blogged about that a couple weeks back -- My Charter School Fears: Bad Scoreboard.
Having seen the film and bought the book, I’m skeptical that the ”Waiting for ‘Superman’” propaganda campaign is going to have much impact on education policy, despite all of the buzz for and against the film. Although a few documentaries or biopics have succeeded in getting viewers to think differently about their subjects, I don’t think that films in general have demonstrated much potential for moving people to action; and ”Waiting for ‘Superman’” doesn’t really lead the viewer to take a particular action.
”We know what works,” “Text this number to help,” and “Get involved” are exhortations that confront the viewer at the film’s conclusion — but they’re hopelessly vague.
I tend to agree that the "Get involved" stuff is highly unlikely.
I do wonder about the effect on Democratic party politics though, over the next couple years, for those 1 million viewers. Seems like most ticket-buyers might simply be more open to the education reform message from elected officials.