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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 10/18/2010

Why 'Superman' film should be 'Waiting for Batman'

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Susan Graham, a teacher of family and consumer science (formerly "home ec") for 25 years. She is a National Board-certified teacher, a former regional Virginia teacher of the year, and a fellow of the Teacher Leaders Network. This appeared on the Teacher magazine website.

By Susan Graham
I was "Waiting for Superman," but I was disappointed. A lot of other people who see this movie -- which paints a distorted view of urban education and unfairly portrays teachers -- are going to be disappointed too, because it should have been entitled "Waiting for Batman."

Waiting for Superman director Davis Guggenheim is just too young to have met the Superman and Batman from my formative years. He should watch more TV because he’s got his superheroes mixed up.

When I was a kid, I came home from school and watched the black and white 1950s Superman series reruns. The Superman I came to admire didn’t go around kicking butt, taking names, and self promoting.

He watched, he waited, and when all other resources had been exhausted, Clark Kent dashed into a phone booth and stripped down to his tights. Superman believed in the people around him. He seemed to think of them as decent honest citizens who were capable of making their own choices.

So when Superman did step in, he didn’t impose his own solutions until human options had run out and innocent people were going to be hurt. Then he simply removed the barriers, got things back on track, and made it possible for everyday folk to continue to pursue truth, justice and the American Way.

Once ordinary humans could get a grip on the situation, Superman slipped out of the picture, put on his Clark Kent double breasted suit and horn-rimmed glasses and went back to his day job at the Daily Planet. He had no agenda of his own to impose. He didn’t try to fix Earthlings so that they become wannabe Kryptonians. Superman had the power to reshape our world, but what he seemed to want to do is to blend in and help out.

I was a teenager when Batman stepped out of the comic books and onto the TV screen.

Bruce Wayne, "millionaire, playboy, industrialist, and philanthropist" saw his parents murdered and he vowed to revenge their death by imposing law, order and righteousness on the criminal element in Gotham City. Wayne put on his Batman cape, fought the bad guys, and then retreated to the Bat Cave.

I never really cared much for Bruce Wayne. I thought he was arrogant and aloof and I never bought into his elitist perspective of the world around him. He had the money, the power, and the resources to work with those around him to make a better world, but he chose to impose his personal agenda of truth and justice. He used his position of entitlement to put on a mask and work outside the system. Batman was willing to rescue the little people from evil, but he never seemed care to mix with them after hours. As both Bruce and Batman, it was always sort of all about him.

The one thing Superman and Batman had in common was a secret identity. Bruce Wayne lived a reclusive life and had the Bat Mask going for him, so it’s plausible that he managed anonymity. But back when I was watching those old Superman episodes, it really bothered me that the entire staff of the Daily Planet could be so oblivious.

How could they not notice that Superman and "mild mannered reporter Clark Kent" were one and the same? Lois Lane, an investigative reporter, who pined for Superman and snubbed Kent, never questioned the coincidental but consistent disappearances of Kent when Superman showed up. Jimmy Olsen, cub photographer, archived images of Superman without ever noticing the Man of Steel was the spitting image of Clark Kent without glasses. Editor Perry White had a reporter with X-ray vision, but never recognized or utilized the potential power behind Kent’s dependable but unobtrusive work habits. What a waste!

And that brings me back to Waiting for Superman. Education stakeholders, like the staff of the Daily Planet, aren’t paying much attention.

There is an army of Supermen and Superwomen among us disguised in alphabet sweaters, apple jewelry and UNICEF/Save the Children ties.

Teachers are intervening in the lives of children every day and some of them have been doing it for 35 and 40 years under conditions that would crush the spirit of a mere mortal.

They’re not out there trying to "fix" children so that they look more like little Bruce Wayne Juniors. Most teachers are doing all they can to empower children to define and pursue their own understanding of truth, justice and the American Way.

All we ask is that we be allowed to do our job without being weakened by the Kryptonite of manipulation by power brokers, without exploitation by politicians, and without denigration by the media.

We’d prefer to stay in our classrooms with the kids, but there are over 4 million of us out there and before this is over, some of us just may have to take off our glasses and put on our tights.


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By Valerie Strauss  | October 18, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  School turnarounds/reform  | Tags:  batman, davis guggenheim, heroes, superheroes, superman, susan graham, teacher leaders network  
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I read Susan Graham's article with interest,and I believe that many-and likely most-teachers are doing a good job. Right now it seems that the way teacher performance is measured is by examining student achievement.There are a myriad of reasons available to account for the poor student achievement scores. The system may not establish the individual student benchmarks early enough; they may just be comparing this batch of students with previous batches; if the latter is in fact what is being done, then that is one problem that can be solved by ascertaining where each child is on various benchmarks every year.School district or school-constructed measures of achievement could be created, authenticated;used and re-examined as needed.Another thing that is done very poorly is teacher supervision and teacher assessment. This is the job of the various levels of administration and they do not do it well.Without effective supervision and assessment it is difficult to arrive at the point where one can say that they know about teacher competencies because they have checked thoroughly for evidence of them; these competencies are well documented! I'd not be so hard on critics because, clearly, there is much to be critical of.I've been teaching for 36 great years;still substitute and love it;never have been teacher of the year;only been supervized five times-four of which were a waste of everyone's time!

Posted by: jsasnooky | October 18, 2010 7:24 AM | Report abuse

I get enough ribbing from my students without donning tights. I don't see teaching as the only special calling, but I do see it as one. Helping young minds navigate their world, and then ours, is a wonderful way to spend a life. The trick is to keep it challenging for all involved, while drowning out the steady drone of doubt permeating so much of the American way these days. To read about my exploits in the classroom, please visit my blog at

Posted by: dcproud1 | October 18, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

"There is an army of Supermen and Superwomen among us disguised in alphabet sweaters, apple jewelry and UNICEF/Save the Children ties.

Teachers are intervening in the lives of children every day and some of them have been doing it for 35 and 40 years under conditions that would crush the spirit of a mere mortal."

Excellent analogy between the teachers and Clark Kent. Thank-you, I enjoyed this and quite agree.

Posted by: celestun100 | October 18, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

GREAT analogy - vivid descriptions!!!

For the public's sake,I hope that if the tights come out with the rest of the outfit and the cape, the 'superteachers' don't have to fly away because the politicians have mined the schools with too much kryptonite.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | October 18, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

I wish teachers would put on their tights and capes and fly into Washington soon for a well-planned, well-organized march.

It's about time for one.

Posted by: efavorite | October 18, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Love the Superman v Batman analogy. Mine is for all of us in the trenches including school board members: Its time to put on our Ruby Slippers and save ourselves. If that means standing side by side with people in tights - so be it. Capes, ruby slippers, tights and bows and arrows (Robin Hood)- let's bring it.

Posted by: charlottehummel | October 18, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Well done!! Your analogies are spot on.
Thank you!

Posted by: buckbuck11 | October 18, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I second efavorite's motion.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | October 18, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Good idea, as usual, efavorite.

Posted by: celestun100 | October 18, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

That was very good! Brilliant! It said it all.

Posted by: zebra22 | October 18, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

This is actually a war to bully teachers because business people and former business people like Bill Gates want to break the union.

They want the power to destroy people's lives they had in the business world. And they are out for the throats of teachers.

Posted by: jlp19 | October 18, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Very clever post indeed!

And efav: I totally agree with you!! It's time we teachers stand up and speak out for ourselves. It seems as though Baltimore City's teachers did just that with the failure to ratify their contract!

Perhaps the tide is beginning to turn!

Posted by: UrbanDweller | October 18, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Where is the "accountability" for...
/> the CIA and other corrupt
govt. & Wall Street-affiliated players
being involved with international drug smuggling
& distribution for decades (!)
-- deliberately inundating
communities & specific neighborhoods with heroin,
cocaine, meth, pills (MDMA/ecstacy), etc.
It is a documented fact that the CIA
& corrupt elements of the U.S. govt.
& freemasons have been involved in large-scale
heroin distribution operations and also
involved in the deliberately induced
crack cocaine epidemic targeting black neighborhoods (for the purposes of social undermining & political-economic control).

Where is the "accountability" for...
/> The 'entertainment' industry
flooding our youth with heinously toxic
& cognitively poisonous VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES
that promote
crime, substance abuse, disgusting conduct,
mistreatment & violence against women,
anti-educational achievement,
anti-positive values, anti-professional careers,
anti-healthy, responsible behaviors !

Where is the "accountability" for
self-proclaimed edu-profiteer BILL GATES & MICROSOFT
in producing, promoting VIOLENT, PATHOLOGICAL
VIDEO GAMES, including first-person shooter games,
such as HALO !!!??? --
which, unfortunately, too many of our country's
children, our country's students
heinously waste too much time messing
around with, messing themselves up with --
instead of healthfully, smartly & beneficially using that time
productive experiences, studying, exploring/learning, participating in sports, teamwork, creative arts + music,
outdoor activities & nature, significant time
with friends & family, or engaging in community service !!!

Where is the accountability for VIACOM
& other media corporations
(eg. instead of the "BET" channel being utilized for positive, inspirational, educational or meaningful programming --
it has mostly
broadcast the worst sociopathic, demeaning,
undermining junk -- promoting
gangsterism & exploiting our vulnerable youth
with pernicious mind-killing crap.

FACT! --
Where is the "accountability" for Wall Street
& elite financiers,
owning majority stock in the company
that produced the 'GRAND THEFT AUTO' video game
as its main product !!!

Also, what about the corporate soda-pop
& junk food pushers targeting children ?!

The reality is that ethical, caring, and dedicated
public school teachers have been the
'good samaritans' courageously
teaching with tremendous effort daily
to educate & constructively help chidren --
to transcend, overcome hardship,
to cultivate wellbeing & achievement --
despite the grotesque obstacles
& destruction foisted on us by
irresponsible, unscrupulous, rapacious and
duplicitous corporate execs. & financial elites,
corrupt oligarchs, such as Goldman Sachs et. al.
who've caused millions of chidren & families to be homeless.

Posted by: honestpolicy | October 18, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Yes, efavorite, I am ready to march. Teachers, we can't just continue being the whipping post. We have to find a way to successfully advocate for some sanity in educational policy.

Posted by: sciential | October 18, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Okay, I've located my Wonder-Woman starred shorts; think that if the rest of us get out our capes, power rings and teach-mobiles, we can get the march underway in no time!

I can help with posters and other props - can someone good with logistics get the event going?

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | October 18, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher (and comics fans) I'd like to point out Batman relied on fear, which is what Secretary Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Davis Guggenheim and the lot are counting on: inspiring fear in the villains--which they feel are teachers. The fear of charters. The fear of reconstitution (which my former school, Fremont High in Los Angeles endured this year. Perhaps a more apt analogy would be "Waiting For the Punisher," the ex-Marine who does not deliver the "criminals" to the courts, but doles out justice at gunpoint. That would certainly fit the style of the witch-hunt seen on public education by the Billionaires Boys Club.

Chuck Olynyk
former Fremont High School Social Studies teacher
current Roosevelt High School Social Studies teacher (which is mentioned in "Waiting For Superman")
Los Angeles Unified School District

Posted by: stiepnik | October 19, 2010 12:23 AM | Report abuse

Funny, I always loathed Superman and loved Batman for similar reasons. You've got it backwards, though: Superman's the elitist, and Batman's the true hero.

Superman tries to solve all the world's problems all the time. He's not about helping weak, or "ordinary" people pick themselves up; he's about performing an unquestionable duty in service to mankind--cleaning up our messes, wiping our tears (and backsides), and locating our pets. He takes minimal risk in almost every task because he's practically invulnerable anyway.

Then you have Bruce Wayne, a man of empathy, not pity. As a child, his family was killed by men who used fear and desperation to rule others (indirectly, in the Nolanverse, but it's still the theme driving Gotham's misery). As a man, he spends his nights fighting them and days promoting charitable foundations. He sinks his own fortune into each mission, planning every intricate detail to maximize efficiency and minimize risk. He is something of a businessman, after all ;). Plus, one bullet is all it takes to kill Batman. But he goes out night after night anyway, often solo, beating murderers and rapists to a pulp with his bare hands. Batman is not driven by a sense of duty to mankind. He wants to send a message: No one should be too afraid to stand up for themselves. There is *NOTHING* elitist about that. Batman does things his way because it's the right way--the best way, and he doesn't need a committee to approve it.

Posted by: webchameleon | October 19, 2010 3:44 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and if you do your job so poorly that you need tenure and expensive union thugs to keep you employed, then you deserve to be fired.

If you think you've been wrongfully terminated, have the guts to go through the same channels as the rest of us. Or go private, because your union dues are on the taxpayer's bill.

Posted by: webchameleon | October 19, 2010 3:57 AM | Report abuse

Schools and teachers are, for the most part, doing everything they can do to help students learn to their full potential. Teachers, however, cannot force students to learn. That's where parents come in. Perhaps parents should accept more responsibility rather than blaming schools and teachers for their childs poor performance. It's always easier to blame others.

Posted by: justmeinVA | October 19, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Just to clarify: I was very serious in my comments: I think it's time for career teachers (and that includes teachers in private and charter schools)to take back their profession........a well-orchestrated March - Or several hundred - in every major city - might start to get this accomplished.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | October 19, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

once again, a viewer/reviewer who just doesn't appear to have eyes or ears open in the movie. Did Ms. Graham see the movie or just look at it.

G. Canada's metaphor about "waiting for superman" is a call to action to stop waiting for a grand deus ex machina, but to get involved and support kids. The most effective way to to upport kids is to get effective teachers engaged with students. Thus far there have been four main critiques of Waiting for Superman
1) there is no problem
2) there is no problem which teachers can address
3) there is no ineffective teacher
4) there is nothing to learn from outside teaching (or its corollary: business is tainted and any conclusions or involvement from the nonacademic world is tainted

Teachers are not the whipping post in the movie -- it is ineffective systems (both bureaucracies which don't act and unions which block intervention) which propagate ineffective teachers and harm children.

If one disagrees, then write a review of the movie, not a review of one's own conceptions.

Posted by: proofpoint | October 19, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Sorry ProofPoint
No one is obligated to buy a ticket for Waiting for Superscam school privatization.
Consumption of propaganda is not a worthwhile endeavor just to satisfy you that those of us think differently have considered thoroughly your point of view prior to sharing our own. I really did 'see' the protagonist Ms. Rhee and how she operated here in DC and frankly-that was enough 'hype' to last me a lifetime....

Posted by: rastajan | October 19, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

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