A Small Act

I read about “A Small Act” through Roger Ebert’s coverage of the Sundance film festival, and of course it appealed to me because I so strongly believe that small acts really can change the world.

But Ebert compares this film to the situation documented in “Waiting for Superman,” about the class-stratified U.S. public school system, the failure of which the director lays at the feet of the teachers’ unions. (And no, the director isn’t a conservative. In fact, he directed the Al Gore documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”)

Read it – and the comments, which strongly rebut Ebert’s conclusion. What do you think?

6 thoughts on “A Small Act

  1. I haven’t seen the movie and read Roger Ebert’s article the content of both make my blood boil. They both totally miss the issues of our education system and with our professional jobs.

    1. The American education system is not failing; it’s failing only for the poor. Middle class and in particular upper middle class and the rich neighborhoods have a decent, if not more than decent, educational system. It’s basically a question of property taxes.

    A good example is the educational systems in the Washington DC metropolitan area. The city itself, with large poor resident, has an educational system that leaves a lot to be desired. The suburbs, Fairfax and Montgomery counties, have excellent educational system. They also have many rich people and the middle class is large and doing well.

    The teachers union has absolutely and definitely nothing to do with it. The two counties above have relatively high teachers salaries and strong unions as well. The problem in DC is not the union; it’s the inadequate administration that includes education.

    2. For a very long time young American were going to jobs that earn a lot of money and shunned jobs requiring a lot of work. It’s not that we lack the talent or the education to produce more engineers, the problem is that an engineer doesn’t make nearly as much money as a business degree graduate makes(Goldman/Sacks, hedge fund,…). As for nursing, for example, many of the workers (nurses, helpers, technicians,…) are foreigner. There are African nurses and technicians and there are many Island and Hispanic worker on the lower level. Hard work, and nurses work hard, just didn’t appeal to us recently.

  2. This is so true. My first job out of law school, clerking for a state supreme court judge paid a higher salary than I’d made as a teacher if I’d stayed in teaching for twenty years and gotten a doctorate along the way. We have a perverse incentive system in which the highest paying jobs (outside of sports and entertainment which are niche professions, really) are simply those which help already rich people preserve their wealth.

    I would also add my personal observation that, at least in the areas where I taught, administrative positions generally were the province of people who didn’t really like teaching (or other teachers or even kids) but who had too many years invested in the system to change careers and who recognized that being principal paid more and had less stress. All you had to do was keep the school board happy and make sure the football team won. Obviously, not all administrators fit this description — the best ones surely don’t — but for those who do, stripping teachers of union protection and leaving their job status at the whim of “test scores and peer evaluations” is a nightmare waiting to happen.

  3. DC’s public schools are a special case. I haven’t seen any recent data, but for a long time they spent more per student than almost any other public school in the nation. The reason for that was that the school system – like the rest of the DC government – was a patronage system, so lots of jobs in administration for various people’s brothers-in-law, etc., very little money for what went on in classrooms.

    The good news is that, to some degree, the patronage system has fallen apart in D.C. The bad news is that it’s largely been replaced with neoliberalism.

  4. I’m Koshem Bos. The problem with American education is systemic. Yes, teachers’ unions contribute to the problem* but they can’t be the primary source of it. Children are not widgets, therefore test scores should not be the only indicator of learning. As Ebert’s commenters pointed out, so many factors outside of school affect children’s test performance. How can teachers be effective when 2 unruly kids (whose parents threaten to sue the school when informed of their kids’ behavior) can disrupt the whole class? Also, to attribute test score improvement solely to one teacher in one school year is too limiting, don’t you think? What about teachers at grade levels without tests? How would they access such a ‘merit’ pay increase scheme?
    I think Ebert forgot that a story is presented with a particular viewpoint and bias, or he would’ve been more skeptical of “Waiting for Superman”.
    *as do parents who are not ready to be parents, patronage system school districts, etc.

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