Monday, January 10, 2011
For the small number of people who saw "THE LOTTERY", which I enthusiastically watched several weeks ago along with a lesser school-choice documentary called "THE CARTEL", the sides are obviously very clearly drawn. This is a masterful documentary that focuses on the school enterprise zones that have been tentatively set up inside of Harlem, New York City, as well as the desperate parents looking for any kind of alternative to the dead-end public schools their children are "zoned" to attend school in. Every one of these parents is African-American, and they are strivers, several of whom had zero opportunities of their own growing up in the same exact neighborhoods, and they see wasted lives of crime, illiteracy and menial work for their children without an alternative to the stultifying schools that the educrats would otherwise choose to force their kids into.
Thanks to forward-looking programs pursued by Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, and through the efforts of educational choice superstars like Geoffrey Canada and Eva Moskowitz, Harlem has a series of charter schools that emphasize educational rigor and straight-up results. They don't emphasize tenure, teacher grievances and the bloating of administrative staff - these are for-profit schools that must demonstrate results for a long-neglected, very poor student body, or they will unceremoniously lose their charters. Parents, naturally - but perhaps surprisingly to white liberals who once thought that school reform efforts was being run by greedy Wall Street Republicans and their fat cat friends - are desperate to get in, but they must undergo a lottery, since the demand for the few slots is so small.
Of course, the neighborhood activists and the teacher's unions are none too pleased. Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, mouths the usual do-nothing status quo platitudes, and various protesters-for-hire from Acorn (Acorn!) are bussed in from other parts of the east coast to do her and her cronies' bidding. The director of this film, Madeleine Sackler, is obviously trying to shine a light on just how obstructionist the keepers of the status quo can be to helping ambitious families from getting a quality education for their children. After all, one chink in the armor of the government-educational complex and that might be enough for the whole thing to come tumbling down. It might actually (gasp) introduce competition, experimentation, the profit motive, the ability to fire bad teachers, the ability to shut down bad schools, the ability to do away with one-size-fits all "teaching to the test", and so on. This is anathema to those holding the keys to the complex, and it's one big reason why more than half of the African-American boys in the United States aren't graduating from high school.
Not all of the families in "THE LOTTERY" actually win the lottery. It's heartbreaking for the ones that don't. I thought this was a terrifically-paced documentary that should pick up thousands of new converts to the good fight, and as well it should.