Guest Post: Waiting for Superman to Fix All These Shitty Parents


Herein you will find Part II of my review of the block­buster film Wait­ing For Super­man. Part I can be found here and was orig­i­nally posted on my blog Mr. Teach­bad. Part II of the review is first appear­ing here at White Group Mathematics.

At a cer­tain level, it makes no dif­fer­ence whether par­ents are will­fully neg­li­gent, stu­pid, or gen­uinely inca­pable of being good par­ents due to forces beyond their con­trol. At the end of the day, you’re just a shitty par­ent and other peo­ple have to deal with your kids. For a living.

And that’s a big prob­lem if you are a child of such a par­ent. With shitty par­ents you miss out on a whole bunch of use­ful habits and ori­en­ta­tions that, hav­ing not learned, will mess you up more and more with each pass­ing year. You will offend and gen­er­ally dis­en­fran­chise your­self with more and more peo­ple because nobody ever taught you how to act. You’re going to pay for it, and you won’t even know why or when it’s hap­pen­ing. Then we’ll all blame some­thing else, but chances are that won’t help you either.

As The Onion has reported, the world is biased against lazy, self-centered ass­holes. That’s the nat­ural state of child­hood and ado­les­cence. Unless there is a strong force, usu­ally in the form of par­ents, to coun­ter­act this, you are prob­a­bly an ass­hole if you are between the ages of 5 and 25.

Wait­ing for Super­man goes to great lengths to avoid explor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that par­tic­u­lar neigh­bor­hoods may have a crit­i­cal mass of shitty par­ents that take every­body down with them. Per­haps good par­ents who are already strug­gling eco­nom­i­cally now have to strug­gle extra hard with their kids in school because you are a shitty par­ent and your shitty kid is tak­ing up a HUGE amount of resources in MY KID’S school. My kid is there to learn and doesn’t get in trou­ble. Being poor doesn’t give you or your kid a license to be an irre­spon­si­ble dick.

Basic shit.

In this movie we do not see crack-head par­ents. We do not see abu­sive or incar­cer­ated par­ents. We do not see par­ents who do not know who their kids are. We do not see what really brings neigh­bor­hoods down and keeps them down.

And we learn very lit­tle about the spe­cific moti­va­tions of the fea­tured par­ents to get their kids into dif­fer­ent schools. As I men­tioned, the story about the white girl was pretty thin and there was an equally thin sto­ry­line about a teacher not call­ing back a parent…indicative of bad teach­ing and the rot therein. But that’s it. I think what those par­ents wanted, the par­ents work­ing to get their kids into char­ters, is an envi­ron­ment as far away as pos­si­ble from the shitty kids and par­ents in their neigh­bor­hood schools. But we never hear their real sto­ries or motivations.

To turn this into a story of how teach­ers and schools have failed chil­dren is noth­ing but a lie.

This movie takes the entire self-regenerating inter-generational quag­mire of poverty and shitty par­ent­ing and sim­ply says “it doesn’t mat­ter” or “it doesn’t hap­pen”; I’m not sure which. Here’s the real prob­lem. It’s bureau­cra­cies. It’s unions. It’s that teacher who we video­taped that one time read­ing a magazine.

I’m call­ing bullshit.

I’m not even going to talk about the union bash­ing because that whole line of argu­ment was pred­i­cated on the assump­tion that unions exist pri­mar­ily to give bad teach­ers life­time eco­nomic secu­rity with­out ever explain­ing how we would know the dif­fer­ence between a good teacher and a bad teacher.)

Shitty parents=Shitty kids=Suck up all the resources. That’s it. This is not the fault of the teach­ers who work there or the kids who go to school there. But the teach­ers are already work­ing their asses off to pick up the slack of oth­ers. It’s time for kids and par­ents to get off their asses.

Wait­ing for Super­man pre­tends this is not the case. There must be some­thing else that causes black boys who live in shitty neigh­bor­hoods and have no idea who their dads are to do poorly in school.…it’s most likely teach­ers unions. It’s only logical.

Here’s my absolute most favorite exam­ple of the ridicu­lous logic that is the lifeblood of this film: Some reformer in some dis­trict (CA?) was quot­ing stats from his school. It was some­thing out­ra­geous, like, 60K stu­dents had been to this school in 40 years and only 20K had graduated…something crazy like that.

And here is his eval­u­a­tion of these statistics: “That’s the dam­age this school has done to this neighborhood”.

REALLY!?!?! Are you fuck­ing serious?!!??

THAT’S why this neigh­bor­hood sucks? Because of the dam­age done to it by the school? There’s no crime, mostly sta­ble fam­i­lies, two par­ents, solid mid­dle income in this part of town, right? No? And you think the school is mak­ing your neigh­bor­hood suck? Really?!? Are you stu­pid, or just a ter­ri­ble liar?


It’s all on teach­ers. No doubt. But the movie ulti­mately falls in on itself because it holds out char­ters as the answer. But not just any char­ter schools. There is a par­tic­u­lar breed of char­ter schools that are the cream of the crop. Board­ing schools, year-round schools, or schools with an oth­er­wise aggres­sively extended school day and year are the winners.

So, what are the lessons?

1) If you have one good par­ent, even a poor one, he/she will work to teach you that you shouldn’t lit­ter and will try to get you into a school that doesn’t have all of your shitty neigh­bors in it. All of the par­ents in the movie, and par­ents like me, will work their asses off to make sure you don’t have to spend all day sur­rounded by kids who were raised by wolves;

2) The best char­ter schools in poor urban dis­tricts are the ones that implic­itly admit every­thing I am say­ing: PARENTS AND NEIGHBORHOODS MATTER. That’s why the most suc­cess­ful schools are the ones that take kids away from their par­ents and neigh­bor­hoods for the most time pos­si­ble by extend­ing the school day and year. This is an admis­sion that the envi­ron­ment you came from is fucked up and it really, really matters;

3) Many good par­ents are trapped in shitty neigh­bor­hoods and shitty schools filled with shitty kids. They should have a choice and the abil­ity to send their kids to a bet­ter school. Agreed. But let’s be hon­est about what makes a school fail. Garbage in, garbage out. It sounds harsh, but that basic prin­ci­ple holds true for almost every­thing. Literally…almost every­thing. We are teach­ers, not magicians. Amer­ica, give us magic wands, or be rea­son­able. Seriously.

Mr. Teach­bad (


Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim reminds us that education "statistics" have names: Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily, whose stories make up the engrossing foundation of WAITING FOR SUPERMAN. As he follows a handful of promising kids through a system that inhibits, rather than encourages, academic growth, Guggenheim undertakes an exhaustive review of public education, surveying "drop-out factories" and "academic sinkholes," methodically dissecting the system and its seemingly intractable problems.