Tuesday, 15 March 2011


Paramount Pictures
Now Showing

Those who can, do. And those who can't, teach. And those who can't teach, well, their jobs are pretty much secure if they happen to have tenure. That's one of the revelations in Davis Guggenheim's examination of the failings of the American education system, Waiting For "Superman", where rescue doesn't seem to be coming anytime soon.

The system of tenure, adopted from the similar university system instigated to prevent professors losing their positions due to their political beliefs, has been bastardised to suit the all-powerful Teachers' Union, major contributors to both the Democrat and Republican parties.

Tenure sees teachers who have taught for a minimum 10 years, more or less granted immunity against being fired. No matter how bad their teaching results, they cannot be removed from school, and in the cases where they cannot remain in the classroom, they spend their days being 'rehabilitated'; basically sitting around reading magazines whilst still on full pay.

Another issue covered in Waiting For "Superman" is the lack of spaces available for students in independent schools. Those who can afford it send their kids to private school (as Guggenheim confesses to), while those who are restricted to attending those schools within their allotted region (based on postcode), either have to put up with the underfunded public schools (and aforementioned disengaged teachers) or vie for a much sought after spot at an independent school, spots which are literally determined via a lottery.

While Guggenheim's film is very much a campaign, it's not against teachers or unions per se. Teaching remains one of those underrated professions where the efforts of the good are easily undone by those who rock up to class to simply to collect a pay cheque. These people are with our kids for a quarter of the day, five days a week, and are responsible for molding their young minds. They, not footballers and celebrities, are role models and second best (at best) shouldn't be good enough. Reward the good teachers; fire the crap ones.

Workers' unions, despite the inherent problems, also perform a vital role and I'd rather have protection for workers than not. But the US Teachers' Union seems to have lost sight of who they're supposed to be fighting for, and the children – the future – have become collateral damage.

I grew up in country NSW where our small town had just two schools; the Catholic school, which you could only attend from Kindergarten to Year 6; and the Central School, which I attended for 13 years, from day one of Kindy until I completed my HSC. We had small class sizes and, for the most part, teachers who enjoyed their work and were fully engaged with their subject and their students. US (and Australian metro-based) kids today should be so lucky.

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