I've never been an education activist. In fact, I always held the misconception that things just were the way they were, that some kids were good students, that some weren't, that some teachers were good, that some weren't, and that was that. Some schools would just have high dropout rates. What could I realistically do about it?
The last three months have changed my mind. I was, quite simply, ignorant on the matter.
A few things happened: During my time as editor of HuffPost Impact, I wrote stories from across the country of individuals persevering despite seemingly insurmountable odds, of teachers, tutors and caretakers making a remarkable difference in the lives of children. Often these were children whom we just assumed couldn't make the grade -- and that "we" is not a nebulous pronoun, it refers to all of us. The kids were from a poor neighborhood, couldn't get the attention they needed, had no chance of going to college -- and that was that. These stories changed my mind.
Then I saw the new film Waiting For "Superman", a documentary on America's public education system directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim. The film -- which you can see right now in most major cities across the country -- exposes the crisis we face if our children do not learn and excel in a changing world.
It is not just an issue to concern parents. We all have a stake in this. If you'll excuse the cliché, our children really are our future -- that is, they will be the people providing for the future of America, and will be the catalysts for a successful United States. If we continue to let the system fail our children, we are truly in danger of becoming what Arianna Huffington calls "Third World America."
So now I am an education activist, picketing daily -- on Facebook, of course -- against a system that traps American children in a cage of standardized tests, ineffective schools and, occasionally, flat-out bad teachers.
Much has been made about Waiting For "Superman"'s argument that teachers unions have made it effectively impossible to fire a bad teacher. I am not an expert on teachers unions and thus will not comment. The film is a polemic to stir up emotions, and that it certainly does.
Now that you know you're an education activist, it's time at least to pay $8-14 in this horrific economy to go see Waiting For "Superman", now open in cities across the country, and opening in more this Friday.
Then, talk to your friends who are teachers, parents, counselors, union reps, or just strike up an awkward conversation with someone you know at the gym. Like most cause-based documentaries, Waiting For "Superman" is an ambitious attempt to fix an overwhelming problem. The Cove did not end all dolphin-hunting, but it sparked an international discussion that is putting pressure on Japan's cruel industry. Sicko didn't give us universal health care, but it made us angry enough to turn it into a national issue that our government acted upon, if feebly. Clearly, public education won't be fixed overnight.
But, as I learned time and again as an editor with The Huffington Post, it is the voice of a concerned citizenry, over time, that can get things done. If you're fired up, look up your city on the official Waiting For "Superman" site, and find out how you can get involved in your area.
As Ralph Wiggum once said, "Me fail English? That's unpossible." It's time for America to wake up and do the unpossible.
Though I am a regional manager in the Waiting For Superman online campaign, nothing I wrote above was in any way sponsored by Participant Media. I'm a true believer -- also, my mother is an elementary school teacher, and I'm always trying to make her proud.