Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim explores the US education system and presents a very depressing representation. Whilst the analysis at times is simplistic (“…until the 1970s the U.S had the best education system…”) and the narrative one sided, without doubt, Guggenheim presents a persuasive case for educational change. For example. he argues that there are over 2,000 ‘faliure factories’ in the USA, that in some high schools the drop out rate is 30%, an incredible amount. Interestingly, teachers in the U.S are heavily protected by unions and it is therefore very hard to dismiss failing teachers who enjoy the protection of tenure. Moreover, he highlights the cost of imprisonment in relation to education – education is cheaper. The ‘Knowledge is Power’ (KIP) programme appears to help overcome material and cultural deprivation and perhaps proves the sytem can overcome it’s shortcomings (http://www.kipp.org/). Amusingly, despite ranking 25th in Maths and 21st in Science (out of 30 developed countries) and 8th out of 8 for Maths in another study (DECO 2003) , Americans rank first in confidence!
Although of course the US is a very different society to the UK, there are definitely similarites between the two; many of the issues remain the same – overcrowded prisons, undereducated inmates, urban ‘sink schools’, an over representation of certain ethnic groups ‘failing’ in education and the lotttery of education.
Yet, I feel that there is a tendency to scapegoat teachers and lot of dubious statistics are used to back up his arguments. Guggenheim presents a reductionist argument claiming that teachers are the key determining factor on a childs educational success. This of course is a very limited premise – surely material and cultural deprivation are hugely important factors too! Tamin Ansary’s article “The Myth of America’s Failing Schools very much attacks Guggenheim’s claims:” http://www.infotk.com/digest/TeachersHelper/The%20Myth%20of%20America’s%20Failing%20Schools.htm
Yet, despite its shortcomings, it a very decent watch and really encourages us to reflect upon common sensical ideas about education systems.