Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Fairy Tale Called "Waiting for Superman" (Part II)

1, 2, 3, numbers don’t lie, 6, 9, 8, 2 x 7 = 11.

I’M A RETIRED TEACHER. If you’ve read many of my entries you know my purpose is to offer a defense of good public school teachers. And don’t get me wrong. There are bad ones. I know that.

Unfortunately, the idea that schools are failing—and that teachers are entirely to blame—now seems pundit gospel.

Yesterday, I mentioned that I hated Waiting for Superman. If you haven’t seen the documentary let me save you the time.

Davis Guggenheim, who attended an elite private school and sends his kids to an elite private school, styles himself an expert on public education. As a crusading film maker (though not so much of a crusader that he would actually allow his children to rub shoulders with the common folk) he is at pains to point out that in an international ranking in 2006 U. S. students finished 25th in math and 21st in science literacy out of 30 countries.

With all the criticism teachers are taking lately, you can expect to see a story soon that says our students rank 23rd in knitting.

It scares me how “terrible” our schools must be. So I’ve been looking for other signs of America’s impending demise. After all, if Japan beats us in life expectancy and education then our teachers and doctors must be abominable.

Well, here’s the next list to prove we’re screwed. It’s not just crappy teachers. It’s not just horrible doctors. Our police are miserable. I mean: it can’t be complex differences in society, right, dear pundits?

What do we discover if we study the chart below? This time we rate countries on the basis of murder? Here are results—lowest (best) to highest (worst)—for thirty-two member-countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development:


1. Iceland
2. Japan
3. Austria
4. Slovenia
5. Norway
6. Switzerland
7. Germany
8. Spain
9. Sweden

10. Netherlands
11. Greece
12. Italy
13. Poland
14. Portugal
15. England/Wales
16. Australia
17. New Zealand
18. Northern Ireland
19. France
20. Denmark

21. Hungary
22. Luxembourg
23. Canada
24. Slovakia
25. Belgium
26. Czech Republic
27. Ireland
28. Scotland
29. South Korea
30. Israel

31. Finland

NOT ONLY DO U. S. law enforcement officers rank last in protecting the citizenry, they rank last by six feet and a mile. The Netherlands falls to tenth place with one murder per 100,000 in population. The Czech Republic and Ireland rank near the bottom with two murders. Finland may be strong in math and reading, but they need better cops, pronto. Or maybe help counting corpses. They land in 31st place with 2.5 murders.

We rank at the bottom with 5.2 murders for every 100,000 people.

Or, to put it another way, Davis Guggenheim’s next movie should probably be called Waiting for Dirty Harry.

1 comment:

  1. Let me start by saying that I haven't seen the film yet, only the trailer, and that I'm trying to see both sides of the argument here.

    That being the case, could you clarify for me: what in particular is your argument against this film? Just that teachers aren't the only problem we have in the U.S.A.? Because that is definitely true, but that doesn't mean that our schools don't have problems.

    Also, I agree, there are good teachers and bad ones. I've had mostly really good ones growing up (attending mostly public schools, including my university), but I'm also aware that I'm one of the lucky ones. So it seems to me that any argument about it being all on teachers ignores what is probably the bigger problem: the structure of the education system; would you agree or disagree, and why?