Mama Madison: Getting kids thinking about education

"Waiting for Superman" provides a teachable moment

As a mom who does part-time work for the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools, I saw it as my professional as well as parental duty to see the much-hyped documentary Waiting for Superman. So I went, with a group of friends, to see what filmmaker Davis Guggenheim had to say about the state of the American public school system. Many of the criticisms I had read in advance of the film are fair. I doubt Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, is really made of Kryptonite and I am sure even Metropolis has had its fair share of failed charter schools.

But the film masterfully paints the heartbreaking picture it sets out to -- one of too many youths being cheated out of the American Dream by the failure of their public education. The film's narrative revolves around five of these kids, bright and adorable -- and dead serious about getting a better education. Their parents believe they can achieve and are committed to doing right by them, regardless of the sacrifices that may entail. And this gave me pause.

Do my kids even realize that there are parents out there that have to work two jobs, take the subway an hour each way, and leap tall buildings in a single bound in order to give their children what my kids are pretty much getting right up the street?

So last Sunday I took my 13-year-old son to the 11:15 a.m. showing at Sundance. What would a middle class white kid have to say about failing schools in some of the nations poorest neighborhoods? Would it make him think differently about the school he was attending?

His immediate post-film concern was that this was my way of telling him I had entered him in the lottery for the SEED School featured in the movie -- a weekday boarding school in inner city D.C. Once I assured him we were out of district, we could get down to talking about his reaction to the film. In all, I think he found it interesting, even though he couldn't fully relate to the lives of the featured kids.

He had lots of great, unanswered questions: How does teacher tenure benefit students? Why doesn't the film show any of the non-charter public schools that are doing well? Was poverty the reason that most of the poorest performing public schools in Wisconsin are clustered along lower Lake Michigan? But, when I asked him what he found most surprising about the film, his answer echoed mine -- how incredibly motivated the kids and their parents were about doing whatever it took to get a better education. They weren't just waiting for a superhero; they were actively looking for phone booths.

Next Tuesday, the MMSD is coming together with community partners including MTI and the Urban League to host a public conversation on education and reform in Capitol City. While we are not South Central, Madison has its fair share of issues. It will take more than the simple formula presented at movie's end to tackle big issues like the achievement gap and school funding.

Maybe it is best the district is reaching out, not waiting for Superman. I'm not even sure phone booths exist anymore. But yes, I will still be slightly disappointed if Superintendent Dan Nerad doesn't show up to Tuesday's night meeting in tights and a cape. Talk about a conversation-starter.

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Three cheers for reading at the Wisconsin Book Festival

Do you have a little reader or an aspiring teenaged writer in your house? If so, you may want to venture to the Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend, to whet their appetite for wonderful words as well as your own.

Mama Madison: What's in a name?

When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I had two names picked out. Upon her arrival we had not yet come to a conclusion on what that name would be. Everyone told us that when we saw her we would just know. We didn't.

Mama Madison: Eugster's is more than just a visit to the farm

At age 10 months, my kids have seen the zoo a lot already. I was a zoology major in college, and I have something of a zoo addiction still, so the twins (and their dad) are more or less condemned to a future rife with zoo visits.

Help for home-schoolers at the Madison Mentor Center

Home-schooling can be a lonely proposition. Even as a college professor, Juliana Hunt remembers struggling to find support to home-school her now-grown daughter. "I was always hoping to find like-minded people who were in the same position as me," she says. "I know that children learn best through a give-and-take, question-and-answer process of teaching and learning, but where do you find mentors who can make that happen?"

Mama Madison: Yummy Sprout is a wonderful resource

After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?

Mama Madison: Tips and tricks for baby air travel

As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.

Mama Madison: Apple-picking time

The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.

Mama Madison: Baby feeding recommendations

I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?

Heartland Farm Sanctuary helps animals that help kids

Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.

Mama Madison: Back-to-school confidences

Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.

Mama Madison: Does back-to-school really mean a whole new wardrobe?

This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"

Mama Madison: Next generation of bloggers

Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.

Mama Madison: Returning to the workforce

This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.

Triathlons raise money to teach kids healthy habits

"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.

Mama Madison: Kids will find their own passions in their own ways

"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."

Vital work is being done at the Lussier Community Education Center, from community-building to STEM skills

"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."

Mama Madison: Parental dice rolls?

Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."

Mama Madison: What constitutes a keepsake?

As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.

Mama Madison: Young love

Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.

Mama Madison: What a mother fears most

All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.