Today I watched a screener of “The Lottery,” the Eva Moskowitz informercial—er, sorry, charter school documentary—that is making the film festival rounds and coming out in May. Sure, I got a little teary-eyed at the end; every detail of this film is set up for the viewer to believe that if these children do not get into one of Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academies, they are doomed for life. The sad thing is, I had the feeling the five-year-olds at the lottery got that dispiriting message as well. Why do they let children go to these, anyway?
My critique has nothing to do with those charters or the traditional public schools they serve as an alternative to, none of which I have visited. Even if the former are superior to the latter, I found the film exceedingly manipulative. There was the predictable myth I will never tire of attempting to debunk yet politicans will never cease repeating, that prisons are built based on elementary school reading scores. You hear, as you often do, that the average black twelfth grader reads on the same level of the average white eighth grader. When I tried to track that bit down years ago to use in a book, NCES psychometricians told me it is a misuse of NAEP results, the scale scores for different grades not being directly comparable. There are plenty of legitimate data out there people can use to show how bad the achievement gap is; it irks me that public officials go to the same fictoids again and again.
Okay, those are little pet peeves; let me get past them. Now let’s discuss the way the filmmakers play ominous music literally every time the phrase “teachers union” is used. Or the way they rip apart the traditional schools without ever showing them, or their students, or their teachers, to us. Given the promotional materials for “Waiting for Superman,” I have a feeling we are in for the same unsubtle message when that film comes out too, though I think it at least will take us into the schools being trashed, so viewers might understand why.
I have so many thoughts on how disturbingly polarized the education “conversation” has become—reformers vs. unions, Rhee and Klein as saviors or Satans, as if there is no sane middle ground—that I am having trouble figuring out how to even start explaining them. I was waiting for a big, cohesive way to start laying out my take on all this, but instead it looks like it will just start leaking out of me.