There are two movies about the problems with education in America currently making the circuit that address what appear to be completely different worlds.
Waiting for Superman (right), directed by Davis Guggenheim, addresses the problems with under-achieving students, teachers and schools that have placed our education system at the bottom among the developing nations in the world. This film shows students struggling to find challenging education with high standards. The film paints a picture of students suffering from lack of educational opportunities and struggling to get into college. The solution seems to be to challenge students more and expect more from teachers and the education system.
In contrast, Race to Nowhere (left), directed by Vicki Abeles, paints a picture of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink because of high expectations in schools, educators who are worried that students aren't developing the skills they need to get into the best colleges, and parents who are driving their kids too hard to succeed. Race to Nowhere says there is a silent epidemic in our schools because students are being pushed too hard: cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired. These students know they are going to college - they are being pushed to get into the best colleges and the film seems to say we need to back off and not push them so hard.
The startling contrast between these two strikingly different views of what is wrong with education may actually show us the real problem with education in the United States. We have one culture of privileged elite students who are guaranteed the best in life and suffer from too many wonderful things from which to choose. Then we have another culture of disadvantaged students, side by side in the same communities, who are denied opportunities and resources that would help make them successful in life. Resolving the contrast between these views may lead us more quickly to solving the problems of education in America than attacking either of the problems outlined by the individual movies.
Click on the heading above to see the trailer for Race to Nowhere and then contrast that with the trailer for Waiting for Superman at http://www.waitingforsuperman.com/