To open his documentary, Waiting for "Superman", Davis Guggenheim shares with us a confession. While he believes in the value of the public school system, he drives past several community schools every day when he takes his own children to a private school. When one's own children's future is on the line, reconciling one's values with one's actions can be a challenge. But, what if he didn't have the privilege of sending his kids to a private school? What if his child was one of the millions of children who don't have a choice? What if he, like Ohio mom Kelly Williams-Bolar, faced jail time for trying to send his kids to a better school?
The film's title comes from a memory told by educator Geoffrey Canada in which his childhood hope of being rescued from his dangerous neighborhood and his bleak future by Superman is crushed when he discovers that the character is not real. "Who will save us now?" he asks. What follows is an exploration of the evolution of the public school system; at its best, the most successful social program and at its worst a dropout factory that creates and sustains impoverished communities. To humanize the story, Guggenheim also follows four students who are trying to increase their odds of getting into college and making a better life for themselves by entering into lotteries for slots at charter schools. Even these students, whose parents or guardians are active in their education and work hard to help their children succeed, are slowly slipping behind by virtue of the education to which they have access.
Guggenheim finds plenty of fault to go around - no one is left off the hook - and does a good job of presenting and explaining the many facets of this problem. It's a somewhat depressing story, though. Other than "get involved in your community" there really is no solution that's offered. For a cogent, well researched and intelligently discussed look at the public school system, though, this film gets an "A."