The first thing I saw when I approached the theater was a small and orderly demonstration by a group of teachers. The film comes down pretty hard on unions, so I wasn’t surprised. One of the signs read: “We are not waiting for anyone! We teach because we care!”
I stood in line behind a San Francisco public schoolteacher named Vanessa Nelson, who was not sure what she’d make of the documentary. She and her colleagues wanted to see and discuss it, she said, but they were concerned that the only schools held up as models of success and hope were privately run, publicly funded charter schools. Why should they support such a film?
Behind me was Mieko Scott, her 12-year-old daughter, Kamari, and one of Kamari’s friends. Scott’s family recently moved from Oakland to the East Bay suburb of Dublin, where they thought the public schools would be good. Kamari lasted four days in a public middle school, Scott said, before she returned to private school. She goes to Ecole Bilingue, a private French-English immersion school in Berkeley with much smaller class sizes.
“The system is not good for kids right now,” Scott said.
The film made people laugh at times and gasp at others. (Some said afterward that they cringed at an animated cartoon that depicted teaching as opening up a student’s head and pouring knowledge inside.) And, of course, there was sniffling at the end. Even I — the hardened journalist that I am — had to work to keep the tears from flowing. At a purely human level, it’s heartbreaking! Does anyone know if kids always sit through these lottery drawings, and if so, why? To make them feel more grateful and invested if they do get in?
After the movie ended, after developer Phil Tagami and mayoral candidate Don Perata introduced Superintendent Tony Smith, and after Smith gave his two cents about the film, a man in the crowd (whom I probably should know, but don’t) suggested that the wait was over — that Tony Smith was the school system’s superhero.
“You’re pretty much the idea of Superman,” the man said.
Smith thanked him for his support. Then he leveled with him.
“I don’t think Superman is coming,” he said. “I really don’t.”