“Waiting for Superman,” though hailed as “powerful” by President Barack Obama, popular with audiences and a winner at the Sundance Film Festival, failed to gain an Academy Award nomination. That should come as no surprise.
The problem is not, as some contend, the filmmaking craft of director Davis Guggenheim or the accuracy of “Waiting for Superman.” Rather, Guggenheim broke ranks on liberal orthodoxy, and in the dream factories there can be no pardon for that.
“Waiting for Superman” tracks students who are trying to escape America’s government monopoly education system, what supporters call “public education.” Though a well-documented failure, as the groundbreaking study “A Nation at Risk” noted in 1983, that system is a stronghold of liberalism and, as former Secretary of Education William Bennett put it, the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.
As a voting Academy member recently told me, liberal Democrats dominate the ranks of those who hand out Academy Awards. They are not likely to reward movies that reveal government monopoly education as a bust. The same is true for teacher unions.
As the late Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman noted, teacher unions actually run the government monopoly education system. “Waiting for Superman” interviews people who, for good reason, are somewhat less than worshipful of teacher unions, whose ranks include desk sleepers and other opponents of reform. Liberal critics cried foul, but “Waiting for Superman” could have been much harder on teacher unions.
For example, it could have shown them applauding when President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan quashed DC Opportunity Scholarships, a popular and successful school- choice program. Those enrolled in the program were mostly poor African-American children, but in the unions’ scale of values, politics and money come before the interests of students and parents.
“Waiting for Superman” could have tabulated how many union teachers, administrators and politicians, while interning students in failed, dangerous government schools, send their own children to private schools. That is a trend across the country.
Guggenheim, meanwhile, can boast impeccable liberal credentials. He directed Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” the Oscar-winning documentary for 2006. He also directed a biographical film for Barack Obama. Even with those credentials, in the Hollywood ethos, it is not permissible to doubt liberal orthodoxies, much less attack them. Guggenheim is certainly guilty of that, but he should not let the Oscar snub bother him.
Plenty of good documentaries and dramatic films alike fail to gain Academy Awards, or even nominations. Guggenheim doubtless will try again but he has already succeeded on several fronts. He showed courage in tackling this subject in the first place. Echoing the title of another highly regarded film about public education, he stood and delivered.
In fine style, he exposed a failed government education establishment. Best of all, he inspired parents and students to buck that reactionary establishment, whatever the odds, and seek better schools. So in their eyes the film is a winner.
The lesson of “Waiting for Superman” is that parents and students everywhere need more choice in education. Legislators and policy makers across the country should give it to them by establishing full choice in K-12 education, as a matter of basic civil rights.