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
This will not (although it could) be a treatise on the value of "alone time" for a healthy marriage, though. Nor will it be an ode to how nice it was for me to have a few days off from lunch-packing, carpool-driving and homework-nagging.
For those of you who haven't yet seen it, the eight-week-long transit campaign, placed both inside and on the outside of buses, features a photo of an orange tabby with a stainless steel bar drilled into its head accompanied by the line "I am not lab equipment. End UW cat experiments!" Just as PETA hopes, the image is shocking and demands an immediate response.
If I had my druthers, I'd sit out the entire shopping week that follows Thanksgiving. Black Friday, for starters, has corrupted the fine art of bargain shopping and turned it into a gladiator sport. There is no percentage off that is worth losing sleep, or even worse an eye, over. Especially if you have kids in tow.
When you shop for toys, there is always the conflict between what you think is appropriate/adorable and what the child being shopped for might actually want/play with.
Many of the pop-culture seasonal touchpoints of my youth are completely lost on my kids. You see, while I may have memorized every word to both the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser's songs from The Year Without a Santa Claus, I'm pretty sure the only Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special my kids have ever seen has been Rudolph.
I am so thrilled that the United Way is sponsoring a Teen Gift Drive this holiday season. Sure, teen "wants" often aren't as fun to shop for as precious baby dolls and sweet Lego sets. But middle and high school kids still "need" to feel valued and loved during this time of year. And helping a family in need to provide this for their child is a wonderful way to get in the spirit.
My 11th-grade and 8th-grade sons have heard "the chant" for years. You know which one I'm talking about -- the ESFY (U?) chant (I'm not sure what the parenting post rules are for writing two of the more forbidden four-letter words in the English language) that appears to have both Barry Alvarez and Chancellor Blank quite concerned.
There are many different criteria parents use when evaluating which pre-school programs will be right for their children. Some parents might be looking for an educational philosophy that stresses creativity and community. Others may desire an option that revolves around learning through play or is more academic in approach.
We spent hours poring over name books and checking for inappropriate initial combinations. We looked at meanings, variant spellings and popularity charts. And, as I am sure every parent does, we thought we'd hit the name jackpot with each of our kids. But there are always surprises.
A generation or two ago, the pediatrician was the guy (yes, they were mostly guys) who gave your kids shots and prescribed big bottles of antibiotics for every sniffle. Madison's Dipesh Navsaria is a different breed of pediatrician.
Gamehole Con will be the premier tabletop gaming convention in the region. And with Wisconsin being the birthplace of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as the nation's leader in gaming stores per capita, it kind of makes sense that the convention's organizers want the Dairy State to be known for more than just cheese, beer and bratwurst.
This year I will also try to ease up some of my previous costume concerns. Sure, the world is rife with inappropriate dress up choices for our kids; there is no parent out there that is keen on his or her child dressing like a pint-sized prostitute, even for one night.
This past Saturday, I took my youngest to hear Caldecott award-winning author/illustrator Kevin Henkes read from his latest work, The Year of Billy Miller, a short novel for the early elementary grades.
I was greeted at the door by Tom Moen, who has served as executive director of what he likes to call "Madison's best kept secret", for the past 39 of the center's 47 years. Located in the middle of the subsidized Truax Park apartment complex, EMCC, with its vast array of offerings for kids, seniors and everyone in between, is unquestionably the heart of the neighborhood.
Madison's Kashmira Sheth has written four award-winning novels for middle grade and teen readers, and a popular chapter book for six- to nine-year-olds, but right now her picture books are what she's excited to talk about.
A few summers back, my daughter, maybe 8 or 9 at the time, decided to take part in our swimming pool's annual water ballet show. I'm not really sure what initially piqued her interest in the somewhat under-the-radar, very much under-the-water sport of synchronized swimming.
We rarely included a stop at the Central Library as part of our regular outing. For those of you who've been in Madison for a while, I'm sure you'd agree that the old building was pretty run down. Not to mention, dark, cavernous and depressing. Libraries, at their best, should be portals to discovery, right?
My eleven-year-old daughter spent most of last weekend alone in her room, door shut. It wasn't a temper tantrum or an overwhelming need for tween privacy that led to her self-induced isolation, though. Instead, I didn't see her (except for meals) for two days because she was, in her words, "going through her closet."
Yes, the 2004 classic comedy Mean Girls is an absolutely delightful movie. But it's definitely not the smartest mother/daughter viewing as your child is about to enter her inaugural year of middle school.
Despite celebrating 30 years in business this year, Knowledge Unlimited Inc. remains relatively unknown in the community. Those concerned with closing the achievement gap in Madison's schools, however, may want to take note. This award-winning educational-materials producer, based in Middleton, is unique in emphasizing multiculturalism throughout its lines of educational posters, DVDs and children's books.