We wouldn't expect state government debate on health care to include a screening of Michael Moore's Sicko anymore than we would debate on teen pregnancy to include a viewing of MTV's Teen Mom, so why are both houses of the Florida legislature sponsoring a viewing of the biased and inaccurate education documentary Waiting for "Superman"? Probably because it fits nicely into the Republican agenda, but shouldn't we expect our lawmakers to promote things like actual facts instead of flawed propaganda?
The film premiered this September to a hoopla of publicity and is, ironically, directed by Davis Guggenheim, the maker of one of the Right's most abhorred documentaries, An Inconvenient Truth. The film follows children through the public education system before espousing the virtues of charter schools and casting the popular education straw men, "the bad teacher," and education unions as the villain.
Former Governor Jeb Bush and other Florida Republicans have long been eager to dismantle public education in favor of vouchers for students to attend for-profit charter school. So it fits nicely into their agenda.
Senate and House leaders will be sponsoring a showing of the film in Tallahassee tomorrow complete with a panel discussion.
The New York Review of Books was one of just many publications to call into question's the films basic thesis that charter schools are the answer to education's woes:
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The propagandistic nature of Waiting for "Superman" is revealed by Guggenheim's complete indifference to the wide variation among charter schools. There are excellent charter schools, just as there are excellent public schools. Why did he not also inquire into the charter chains that are mired in unsavory real estate deals, or take his camera to the charters where most students are getting lower scores than those in the neighborhood public schools? Why did he not report on the charter principals who have been indicted for embezzlement, or the charters that blur the line between church and state? Why did he not look into the charter schools whose leaders are paid $300,000-$400,000 a year to oversee small numbers of schools and students?
The New York Times also reported that at least once scene in the documentary was staged. A fact that Guggenheim concedes.
The raves for Superman don't only come from Republicans though. President Obama has praised the film.
The problem here though is that we should expect our politicians to not only make their own decisions on things like, say, sound, unbiased sources but promote those facts to the public. Populist political documentaries meant for the masses may have some merit and place, but should lawmakers join up as part of the publicity team?