Assessment Opinion

Guggenheim Gets an Earful

By Anthony Cody — November 17, 2010 1 min read
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Waiting for Superman director Davis Guggenheim has fulsome praise for teachers, and on Huffington Post this week he has asked for our feedback. He writes:

Teachers live it everyday so they get it -- the good and the bad. And I am moved by all the reactions: the emotion, the criticism, the longing to help the kids in my documentary.

So far, Guggenheim is the one who has been getting it. And the feedback teachers have posted thus far spans the spectrum from critical to blistering.

It is fascinating to follow this process. I watched (and wrote) when Waiting for Superman was introduced to the public through two Oprah shows, and a $2 million promotional campaign underwritten by the Gates Foundation. I watched (and wrote again) that very special week when NBC news lavished airtime on schools in their Education Nation programming, where Guggenheim and his celluloid heroes Michelle Rhee and Geoffrey Canada were toasted by billionaires for their courage. The voices of teachers occasionally peeped up unbidden, but were largely ignored.

In the realm of corporate-sponsored galas and conferences of grant recipients, I am sure Guggenheim remains the toast of the town. He is finding that teachers have an independent voice, however, and while we may not have much access when NBC runs the show, we are capable of typing in a little box and hitting the submit button.

Here are a few of the comments his post has received:

Amy Valens, who has created her OWN wonderful documentary, August to June, about what a great school looks like, writes:

What makes those charters better, and which changes are applicable to other schools--public or otherwise? Certainly showing teachers as people who pour knowledge into kids heads doesn't forward the conversation, nor does fear mongering with out of context statistics. With the opportunity to introduce little-heard voices with positive ideas, instead you relied on the same folks that the Business Roundtable has been trotting out through the media for years.

Shanee Garner writes:

We don't need a documentary about public education without a single public education teacher. I expected a more nuanced view of education you know, where, you look at the factors that cause failing schools such as poverty, inequitable funding, harsh government guidelines, zero tolerence policies. Not some union bashing and teacher scapegoating nonsense.

Glynis Cooney:

I am no fan of the teachers' unions, but in the current climate of anti-teacher and anti-(non charter) public school that you helped fuel, I fear what my job will look like next year without them. Since your film failed to show all the private donations that aided the profiled schools successes, there are reinvigorated claims that we are overfunded and wasting tax-payer funds.


This film was a wasted opportunity. How could you make an entire film about the problems in so-called "failing" schools, and never actually visit or interview anyone within them? And how could you rely on the "expert" analysis of people who have never taught or studied education, let alone tried to understand the issues facing struggling schools? Several of your "experts" are ideologues who are deeply invested in undermining public education. That would be like re-making An Inconvenient Truth, leaving out all of the findings of climatologists who have spent their lives studying climate change, and giving over the majority of the film to people who think climate change is a myth.


Superman is being used to attack due process in our state and the Republicans will probably make teaching an at-will job. Then, all you will have in inner city classrooms will be longterm subs and incompetents who nobody else will hire. Superman is being used to argue that kids don't need expensive socio-emotional supports, just more test prep and standardized testing to fire teachers. I've had more than forty students who have killed someone or died violently. Superman is being used to show that all we need to overcome urban pathologies is high expectations. Superman is feeding the civil war between progressives. You may not realize it but your sources almost all came from the same organized PR camapign choreographed by the McKinsey Group. Their TOTAL evidence that schools alone can overcome the achievement gap is that Ohio Hispanics outscore Whites in a dozen states, not noticing that Ohio Hispanics are not immigrants and have an average income of 50% more than Whites in those states.

Traceydouglas writes:

Given the funding sources for your film, I find it hard to believe your movie is anything but a slick propaganda piece for privatization via charter schools. I would suggest you are being disingenuous to suggest otherwise.
In the end, this WFS article made me feel like a rape victim whose attacker asks before leaving, "So, how did this work for you?"

Out of 52 comments posted thus far, there has been ONE person who has posted a positive comment and guess what? She wants his help to promote a for-profit education business.

Several people have also indicated their comments were filtered out by a moderator.

Thus far, Davis Guggenheim has not responded.

What do you think? What feedback do you have for Davis Guggenheim?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.