Last week I had the opportunity to see Davis Guggenheim’s new award-winning documentary, ‘Waiting for Superman’. Rarely is a documentary this moving and even rarer still is that documentary about public school education.
What really struck me was the interconnectedness of all issues related to the core challenge of public education. As Guggenheim very elegantly lays out, education is directly related to poverty, homelessness, crime, employment, the ability of corporations to find trained employees, the future of our cities, States and the country, and ultimately the balance of power between the United States and other countries around the world as intellectual capital increasingly drives corporate capital in a globalized world.
Equally compelling was the human story it told. Corporations, brands, marketers and celebrities are daily consumed by the business of image management. Yet the children left out of the education and prosperity equation never even get to realize their own self-image, let alone their full potential. Instead their rudderless lives are characterized by feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that are shared by their hard-working and deeply devoted parents.
Obviously balancing the needs of teachers and students and financial accountability is a difficult job. Otherwise this film would not be needed. But on one level, the challenge of public education represents the timeless issue of resistance to change.
Outdated thinking is stunting our children’s future. While the ultimate solution may be complex, one thing is clear. What worked ten, twenty or, worse, fifty years ago in terms of educational philosophy will not serve our children in today’s world. Nor does it give us a chance to compete as a country on the global stage.
The good news is that there are now researched and measured models for success detailed in the film. So perhaps the hardest part of this enduring battle is won. But now we need to raise awareness about the issue to motivate engagement and ultimately change. That’s the powerful role that this film plays.
What’s at stake in this issue is not just the hearts, minds and hopes of literally millions of children. It is the future of this country – our future, our cities, our jobs, and our communities. As such it is not someone else’s problem – it is our responsibility. We should no more accept that a child’s future turns on the roll of a lottery ball than we should accept that our own future be left to chance. My hope is that others will see this film and take the issues to heart. By re-purposing public education in the service of the children, we will not only improve their lives but rebuild our country and its future.
Do you believe the public school system can be fixed? are you concerned that the future of our country depends on it?
Simon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a leading brand consultancy that provides purpose-driven strategy, content, and training that empowers companies to lead business, shape culture, and better our world.