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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Film investigates flaws of public school system

    Film investigates flaws of public school system

    We hear and read about how public schools need to change, but the scope and depth of the issues can leave us overwhelmed. Davis Guggenheim hopes his new documentary about the U.S. public school system,  “”Waiting for ‘Superman,'”” which opens nationwide this Friday, will not only highlight the problems but also point us toward solutions.

    The documentary follows five children from around the country — Anthony, Daisy, Emily, Francisco and Bianca — whose educational futures are left to chance. The students have applied to highly competitive, successful charter schools, and their chances of being admitted range from 5 percent to 39 percent.

    While the film follows elementary and junior high students, the director said he thinks college students will identify with the fact that what is happening to them is “”unfair.””

    “”People who are in college are ones that won the lottery,”” Guggenheim said in a conference call last week, referring to a recurring metaphor in the film.

    In addition to his work as director and producer for various TV shows, Guggenheim has directed feature-length documentaries on the electric guitar (“”It Might Get Loud””) and climate change (“”An Inconvenient Truth,”” the 2007 Academy Award winner). He even directed a short biography on Barack Obama (“”A Mother’s Promise””) that premiered at the 2008 Democratic National Convention before the then senator accepted the party’s presidential nomination.

    Despite his successful career, Guggenheim struggled as a student.

    “”It’s important to note that I was a kid at risk. I was C-minus; I was often the bottom of my class,”” he said. “”I kind of felt like a lot of kids do, which is like school is not for me, I don’t see a future in the classroom, other kids next to me are more intelligent.””

    Guggenheim points to the efforts of one of his teachers, Harvey LeSure, as a major influence in his life.

    “”He wouldn’t accept my version of the world. He said you know what, you’re intelligent, you’ve got something to say — work harder. He pushed me. Over time, I started to trust that I had something to say, that I could write even though it was hard for me,”” Guggenheim said.

    Although his first documentary feature followed teachers in their first year of teaching (“”The First Year””), Guggenheim said he initially didn’t want to work on what would become “”Waiting for ‘Superman.'””

    “”When you read the paper about our schools, it feels too complicated, it feels impossible. It feels like the schools have been broken for too long, and it’s just too hard to fix,”” he said. The director said he was able to broach the topic when he considered his own point of view as a parent who wants great schools but can’t find them.

    Guggenheim acknowledges that as a parent, he is part of the problem and the solution.

    “”I take my kids out of the public school system and I drive by these three public schools and I take care of my kids. That kind of acting out of self-interest is one of the things that hurt our schools. We have to do more than just drive by our schools. We have to be good neighbors and we have to recommit to fixing our schools,”” he said.

    Although the students in “”Waiting for ‘Superman'”” are from different backgrounds, Guggenheim said he felt like they are like his children.

    “”They’ve all had a profound effect on me,”” he said. “”Whenever I hear one of them has done really well, we bring it back home and talk about it with my family, and we high-five each other at the dinner table because I just want Anthony and Daisy and Emily and Francisco and Bianca to succeed.””

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