Who's In It:Davis Guggenheim (narrator), Geoffrey Canada, Michelle Rhee, Randi Weingarten, Bill Strickland
The Basics: American public schools are crumbling. Republicans try to fix them. Democrats try to fix them. Corporations meddle in them for profit. State legislatures set standardized test goals. School boards become a battleground for local control. Textbook committees are hijacked by the forces of dumbing-down. Rich school districts get more. Poor school districts get less. Good teachers are overburdened. Bad teachers ruin children's brains. And now comes An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim to tackle all this while simultaneously telling the stories of five children named Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy and Emily as they enter into local lotteries for slots in prized charter schools.
What's The Deal: This documentary is like a watching someone put together puzzle with some pieces missing, only to have that person turn around when he's done and say, "Look! I finished!" You start to wonder if you're crazy for noticing that something's been overlooked. It's an emotional topic, one that, unlike the subject of climate change, has legitimate disagreement surrounding it and too many opinions to cover in one film. But it's still a vital topic for discussion and worth seeing if only because it organizes a few focal points for ongoing public debate.
Omissions: Guggenheim ignores the fact that lots of coveted charter schools fail in exactly the same ways as their non-picky feeder schools. And while it's good that he takes teacher's unions to task for not policing the ineptitude in their own ranks, the movie doesn't explore why districts outside of teacher union influence have failing schools, too. The result is that he (and he's the narrator, so it sounds even more like personal opinion than objective reportage) tends to come off as anti-union, even though those organizations have contributed invaluable school reforms over the past century.
Who Should See It: You. If you're not part of the audience demographic with school-aged children for whose education you're personally responsible, you might not think much about giving this slickly produced, fascinating film two hours of your time. But it affects you all the same in the place you hate thinking about the most: your wallet. Here's one statistic that should make you care--four years of prison costs as much taxpayer money as 12 years of private school. You're already paying for it; just in the wrong direction.
Now You're Totally Psyched On The Idea Of Watching Lots Of Public Education Documentaries, Aren't You This year alone there were two other small indie docs, Race to Nowhere and The Lottery, both of them worthwhile and depressing. And if you can locate copies or screenings of Frederick Wiseman's 1968 High School and his 1994 follow up High School II, then don't pass up the chance to see those either.