Nor does Guggenheim mention that this boarding school solution was tried on aboriginal children in Australia, Canada, and America a century ago by other progressive reformers. Yet, those well-meaning white people are now routinely denounced as racist scoundrels in such “€œStolen Generations“€ movies as Rabbit-Proof Fence and Australia. In the mid-21st Century, when apologies to minorities for the new school reformers”€™ “€œBorrowed Generations”€ will likely be issued, Waiting for “€œSuperman”€ might be similarly vilified.

This bad schools-bad teachers-bad unions idea (what the Chinese might call the Three Bads Theory) is now such conventional wisdom that few reviewers have noticed that this documentary fails to document visually its own thesis. I kept waiting for “€œSuperman”€ to turn into an exposé featuring shocking classroom footage of bad teachers ruining the lives of innocent children. Yet, Guggenheim apparently finds his message too self-evident to bother shooting video that illustrates it. The main way I could distinguish between the bad neighborhood schools and the good charter schools shown in “€œSuperman”€ is from the disapproving narration, unsettling camera angles, and ominous soundtrack versus the warm lighting and chirpy tone of voice.

Perhaps one reason Guggenheim didn”€™t show us his five students in class is that some of the tykes who seem so winsome when interviewed at home about their college dreams might actually be little hellions in school.

Eventually, Guggenheim regales us with a minute of surreptitious video once shot by a high school student in the traditionally awful Milwaukee system. But this footage is so vintage (1991) that we see students avidly shooting craps in the back of the class. Has any teenager voluntarily rolled boxcars in this millennium? I almost expected the hoodlums to break into a chorus of “€œLuck, Be a Lady Tonight.“€ And didn”€™t we learn from The Wire that if you teach inner city youth to shoot craps, they”€˜d immediately grasp the mathematics of probability?

Why do so many liberals swear by the Three Bads Theory?

Guggenheim recounts how he made a 2001 PBS documentary, First Year, about the heroism of public school teachers. Why did he change his mind? Because, he explains, his children grew old enough for school, and he found himself driving from his home in Venice, California past three public schools to a private school, thus “€œbetraying the ideals I thought I lived by.”€

How come? Evidently, he could tell that these three public schools were bad schools infested by bad teachers.

Yet, how could he divine that while driving by? Guggenheim doesn”€™t mention the names of these bad schools, but here’s a picture of one in Venice: Broadway Elementary. It looks okay, but if you drove by at recess, you”€™d notice the student body is about 80 percent Hispanic and 15 percent black. (Interestingly, Broadway is switching to a “€œMandarin immersion“€ program, perhaps in pursuit of higher-scoring students.)

The Three Bads Theory lets liberal parents rationalize their white flight by publicly blaming teachers while they privately shun black and Latino students.

 



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