Mike Kueber's Blog

March 5, 2012

Saturday Night at the Movies #12 – “Waiting for Superman” and “Bowling for Columbine”

Filed under: Culture,Education,Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 5:10 pm
Tags: , ,

A couple of weeks ago, I signed up for streaming Netflix based on the glowing recommendations of a friend.  My experience, however, hasn’t been that good because most Netflix movies (over 90%) are available only by DVD, not streaming.  I had thought 90% were available for streaming.  As Bogie said in Casablanca, my bad.

But streaming Netflix has a good selection of documentaries that I have been interested in watching, although not interested enough to pick up a DVD.  Two of those documentaries were “Waiting for Superman,” which was released in 2010 and won several prestigious awards, and “Bowling for Columbine,” the Michael Moore movie that was released in 2002 and won an Academy Award. 

“Waiting for Superman” focuses on America’s failing public-education system.  I have read (and blogged) extensively about this problem, and the documentary accurately reflects the widely-accepted consensus – i.e., (a) teacher unions are the cause of the problem, and (b) charter schools, school choice, and testing/accountability are the answer.  Michelle Rhee (reformer) wears a white hat and Randi Weingarten (union boss) wears a black one.  Bush-43’s No Child Left Behind program was fundamentally flawed, but a step in the right direction.

“Waiting for Superman” is interesting viewing, even dramatic, because it reveals the challenge that confronts parents who are trying to get their kids into a good school.  Simply put, there are too few such schools.  Even if a parent does the necessary research to identify a good school, there still remains a problem with admission.  Admission to most good public schools depends on living in the right community or, in the case of good charter schools, winning an admission lottery.

The movie ends with the lottery, where some kids win and most lose.  It leaves you with the feeling we need to do something so that most kids, especially those in poor neighborhoods, have more of a fighting chance to succeed.

Although “Waiting for Superman” was overtly political, I found the movie to be informative and persuasive; time well spent.  “Bowling for Columbine” was also overtly political, but uninformative and unpersuasive. 

Controversial filmmaker Michael Moore wrote, directed, and produced the movie, which focuses on violence in America, especially gun violence.  The movie was prompted by the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in 1999, and although Moore seems to go after gun ownership, by the end of the movie the viewer is left with more questions and answers

Moore effectively argues that gun ownership is not the cause of violence in America by pointing out that Canadians have just as many guns without the violence.  When confronted with the Canadian comparison, NRA spokesperson Charlton Heston proffers two other common alternative causes – (1) Americans have a historical tradition of violence, and (2) America has so much ethnic diversity and strife.  Moore attempts to refute the first argument by describing the historical tradition of violence in other nations, but his examples consist mostly of government violence, not personal violence.  I suspect that their incidence of personal violence has always been lower than ours.  Regarding the issue of ethnic diversity and strife, Moore seems to accept that racial strife has contributed greatly toward a climate of fear that is making much of America live with a hair trigger.

(Incidentally, Moore was criticized by conservatives for picking on Charlton Heston in an interview.  Although Heston was determined to have Alzheimer’s shortly thereafter, but I thought he conducted himself admirably in the interview.)

“Bowling for Columbine” earned a score of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes; “Waiting for Superman” earned a score of 89%.  Personally, I prefer the answers provided by “Waiting for Superman” as compared to the questions raised by “Bowling for Columbine.”


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