Koch on Film
BY ED KOCH
“Waiting for Superman” (+)
The rave reviews of this documentary are well-deserved. Everyone interested in the welfare of children — and their education — should see it.
The oddball title of the movie is explained in the beginning of the picture, so I won’t explain it here. The wars depicted involve the effort of charter schools to compete with the regular public schools and the pushback of the unions. In New York, that is the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Charter schools are not subject to union contracts or work rules — which, in the opinion of many school advocates, prevents teachers from doing their best. The unions and work rules also prevent schools from keeping their best teachers and firing others because of seniority and tenure protections.
I recall the school wars in New York City going back to the days of Mayor John Lindsay (1966-1973), when the battles were more racial in nature. Local minority communities sought to remove white teachers (a large number being Jewish) and replace them with black and Hispanic teachers. They sought to accomplish this goal by overriding civil service exams and requiring minority appointments through court orders.
At that time, children in minority areas were not doing well in their reading and math scores compared with whites and Asians, as is the case today. Advocates believed that if white teachers were replaced with black and Hispanic instructors, the students would do better. It did not happen, and white teachers defended by the unions were legitimately seen by the public as the victims of racism.
Now the fight is centered upon the quality of teaching rather than race. Unions and some teachers are now viewed as resisters of reform seeking to maintain their seniority and tenure rights. They are accused of wanting to block the hiring and retention of younger teachers (blacks, whites, Hispanic and Asians) who are seen as more willing to give of themselves and to teach in the inner-city schools where the population is overwhelmingly minority.
In “Waiting for Superman,” we see three major figures at work. One is Dr. Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public school system. She has done a brilliant job in taking on the unions and firing teachers and superintendents for incompetence. Chancellor Rhee was appointed by Mayor Adrian Fenty. Not discussed in the film is his recent loss in the Democratic primary to Vincent Gray who was supported by the teachers union. It is expected that Ms. Rhee will by fired by the new mayor from her position. What a great loss that would be to the children of our nation’s capital. If that should happen, I hope President Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, will hire her — or that New York City’s School Chancellor, Joel Klein, will bring her into our school system.
A second major figure in the picture is educational reformer Geoffrey Canada, presiding over charter schools in Harlem. He relates the enormous problems that he has faced. The third dominant figure is Randy Weingarten, former president of the UFT. She is now president of the national union, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the villain in the documentary.
The best part of the film is seeing the magnificent children, their parents — and in one case, a child’s grandmother — fighting for education. Some of the scenes will bring tears to your eyes and break your heart.
I saw the movie at the Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema (143 E. Houston St.).
Rated PG. Run time: 1 hour, 51 minutes.
“Let Me In” (+)
The truth is, this is a (beautifully executed) B movie. Only someone keen on vampires could love it. Indeed, the 12-year-old vampire, Abby (Chloe Moretz), is lovable when she’s not doing what vampires have to do. You know what that is — drinking human blood. She and her vampire father, played by Richard Jenkins, live in an apartment next door to a single mother (Cara Buono) and her 12-year-old son, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is being bullied at school by three miscreant schoolmates.
Abby and Owen meet. She warns him saying, “We can’t become friends,” but they do.
Something must have slowed the picture’s conclusion. At the end, Owen — formally a short kid — suddenly develops into a young man who looks six feet tall. It isn’t part of the script.
Lots of killings occur. The wonder of the picture is that you come to love Abby and have sympathy for her father. Interesting is that Abby can lay down naked in Owen’s bed and the audience sympathizes with these children falling in love, one a vampire and one not. Oh, yes, these vampires can actually fly.
I don’t recommend this movie to anyone not a devotee of vampires and their blood needs. Everyone else will enjoy it and have a good time.
Rated R. Run time: 155 minutes.