In today’s world numbers mean everything. How much money someone is making, what the Canadian dollar is worth vis a vis the American, someone’s weight, and what percentage of 18-49-year olds watch Glee. All these numbers are focused on and the people behind them are forgotten. One set of statistics or numbers that we shouldn’t forget are those concerning education. The amount of kids in the U.S. who drop out of high school is frightening and something has to be done about it.
Director/co-writer Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, It Might Get Loud) sheds some light on these kids and makes a documentary that really makes you think about what our society cares about. Education is paramount in today’s world; it can bring the disadvantaged to a better place and should not be denied to any young person. Education should be made to be a priority.
Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily are the kids in this film. We follow these kids, who all show promise academically, through school and we become aware that the education system in the United States is one that discourages success rather than encourages it. We begin to, like Guggenheim, see public high schools in the U.S. as “dropout factories” rather than places of education.
Concentrating on the most vulnerable young people, Guggenheim concentrates on inner city kids. Things like teachers’ unions, which seem to fight for things that are counterproductive to education, the charter school option and teachers who are lackluster, but due to tenure suffer no repercussions are examined. Good teachers are not rewarded and bad ones cannot be fired as their union protects them. We see students who feel that that no matter what they do in high school that it doesn’t prepare them adequately for college and parents who will do anything to get their kids into good schools.
Plenty of questions come out of this like why are the bad schools in poor areas? How can we not be critical of teachers when they have been show to be the deciding factor in kids’ success at school? And can poor kids do well in school? Is a lottery system the best way to dispense places in charter schools? All tough questions with no easy answers.
Some have criticized the film by saying that it heaps all the blame on teachers. This is not true as the blame is spread around to politicians, administrators, unions, parents, and even kids. The entire education system seems flawed.
It is not all negative as the film also highlights some educators who go above and beyond the call of duty to help their students. Principals and teachers who care are shown to make a difference. So do parents, economically challenged or not, who care and are active in their kid’s education. All hope is not lost. But we have to act.
They say that statistics don’t lie and if you subscribe to that then the education system clearly has problems. A documentary that will most likely have teachers and parents arguing different sides though it does do exactly what a documentary is supposed to: educate.
– Four additional inspiring teacher/student stories
-Changing the Odds: A look at innovative programs that are changing public education
-Public Education Updates: Changes which have taken place since the making of the film
-A Conversation with Davis Guggenheim
-The Future Is In Our Classrooms
-The Making of “Shine”: the film’s title track by musician John Legend