A Day at the Movies–Field Report

From a friend of the Lounge, via email, who attended the special screening of “Waiting for Superman” at the invitation of the Chancellor and wishes to remain anonymous:

As 11:30am approached on the morning of Wednesday, November 10, 2010, those who chose to attend the viewing of “Waiting for Superman” were guided into the ShowPlace Icon Theater.  We traded in our district tickets for real movie tickets and were also given a ticket for one free small popcorn and small drink.  Waiting in the two lines for our refreshments was the only opportunity that we had to mingle and chat with fellow attendees.  The movie theater was packed – not an empty seat in the house, and I was forced to sit in a seat reserved for district hotshots.  I was asked to move, but politely declined.

When we were all seated, the Chancellor briefly addressed the audience, thanking us for attending and asking us to stand and be applauded.  First, the students stood – all five of them.  Then the faculty, a small handful of about perhaps fifteen.  Next the staff stood, just about the entire theater fit into this category.  It looked as if every district employee and administrator were present, including secretaries and others who play a minor role in the lives of students.  Clearly, they had to fill the seats.  Next, the Chancellor introduced the movie, stating that it was a film by Davis Guggenheim, director of “An Innocent Truth.”  Yes, I giggled and shook my head.

For the next hour and forty-five minutes we sat in silence watching the film.  There was laughter at some points, tears at the end – you could hear the sniffles and heavy breathing.  I did not cry.  I was too angry.  Not at the film itself, though there were many skewed perceptions, and important points passed by or not even considered.  I was angry at the parents in the film who subjected their children to unnecessary heartbreak and rejection.  If you have seen the film, you know the ending.  If not, I won’t give it away.

After the movie, we took a 15-minute break and reconvened in the theater for the panel discussion.  There were four people on the panel.  First up was Jim, from Advance Illinois, an organization that puts out the State Report Card on Illinois K-12 public schools.  Next was Katie from United Way Metro, an organization that collects resources from the community and then decides who needs the money most.  Their focus is on forming partnerships with other organizations to focus on the three goals of education, health/wellness, and financial stability.  Then we had Angela Henderson and Jaime Guzman.  You all know Angela, a tenured faculty member of CCC who somehow made her way to district, and six months ago was given the title of Provost.  She stated that her job was to ensure the success of CCC students.  Jaime is Chief Advisor to the Board of Directors of CCC.  He worked previously for CPS.

The Panel discussion was supposed to last from 2-2:30pm, but it took half an hour for the members to introduce themselves.  They really did not have anything to discuss, and seemed unprepared.  Alvin, who was acting as moderator, asked a few questions of his own about the movie, and the panelists danced around not giving very clear answers.  The part that most intrigued me was when someone from the audience asked what they, as leaders, could do to assist faculty in doing their job to the best of their ability, and removing some of the barriers that faculty face in the classroom.  There were about 3 minutes of dead silence from the panel.  It seemed as if the idea of DISTRICT helping FACULTY had never occurred to them.  Of course not.  Why would district ever ask faculty, “What problems are you facing in the classroom, and what can we do to help you?”  Then, Jaime attempted to provide an answer.  He stated that the best way to help faculty was to have a strong faculty evaluation process (WHAT!? – that’s what I was thinking).  Faculty need feedback so that they know what they are doing wrong in the classroom.  (I’m squirming in my seat, clenching my fists).  Then, Angela attempts to recover by stating that Professional Development for faculty is the key (now I’m turning red and biting my tongue – we weren’t allowed to speak or ask questions verbally).  Of course, the best way to help faculty is to tell them what they are doing wrong and put them in seminars and workshops to help them get better without asking them what kinds of seminars and workshops would actually be helpful (so that’s what DWFDW was all about…).  After that there was some talk of what advice would the panelists give Obama and I just tuned out.

The panel ended just after 3pm and the Chancellor once again addressed the audience (which was significantly reduced by this time).  She said that she needed half an hour to recover her emotions after watching the movie because she could relate to it both personally (again?) and professionally.  She was the young child sitting there, waiting for someone to give her the chance to make something of herself (wasn’t that CCC?).  Then, we were dismissed and everyone ran out of there as quickly as possible.

So, in my opinion, this was a waste of a day.  That theater should have been filled with faculty, not administrators.  We should have broken out into groups and discussed one aspect of the film, one problem that was brought up, and what we can do as educators, as community college faculty, to address that one problem.  Then, we could have come back together and shared our insights, discussed pros and cons of the solutions, and talked about what was conveniently left out of the film. This would have created the engagement that was supposed to occur.  This would have created the spark of conversation, the passion, the investment in our education system that the movie was hoping to ignite.  Having us sit for an hour listening to panelists who were unprepared and serving their own agendas, was not the way to go.  But, that’s just one person’s opinion.

Waiting for Superman

I’ve had a draft up for a post on the new “It” documentary called, Waiting for Superman about Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone and the Charter School movement for a couple of weeks now, ever since I read Randi Weingarten’s piece in the AFT Magazine on it. I haven’t posted anything though because I’ve been waiting until we got a little closer to the opening (and until I’d read a bit more about it).

Don’t know anything about Geoffrey Canada? Try this. Don’t know anything about charter schools? Try this. (Neither is the final word, but they’ll give you a starting place.)

Then, on Monday two things happened that convinced me to post something this week.

First, our incomparable colleague, Carrie Nepstad, sent me a link from her Blog for Associate Degree Early Childhood Educators (called ACCESS) wherein she reflects on the focus of the film and a PD experience she had at Harvard’s School of Education in August–check out the post here (she also has a second blog, that you can check out here and which has a fascinating/troubling back story that you can ask Carrie about when you see here. Let’s just say that it has something to do with “branding.” Ridiculous. But I digress).

Second, Oprah did a show on the movie.