If the phone calls that AchieveMpls, a nonprofit that works to support Minneapolis Public Schools, has been fielding are any indication, lots of Twin Citians have seen “Waiting for Superman,” left fired about the importance of radical change in our public schools, and yet felt adrift about how to turn their feelings into action. President and CEO Pam Costain wants to do something about that.
On Wednesday, Oct. 27, AchieveMpls will host a community forum at Jefferson Community School from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Details are available here. Half a dozen high-profile education boosters will be in attendance and will make brief opening remarks, but it’s Costain’s hope that the “experts” will serve as conversation starters, not lecturers.
“We don’t know what it’s going to be, exactly — it’s a brave experiment,” she explained. “It’s not even a discussion about ‘Superman,’ it’s about how to move forward.”
For those who haven’t seen it, “Superman” is a much-awaited film by the documentarian who made “An Inconvenient Truth,” Davis Guggenheim. Hopes are high it will do for the crisis in American education what the earlier film did in terms of making global warming a household concern.
If the idea of a documentary about education reform sounds dull, know that it’s been playing to capacity crowds — a screening Costain hosted recently attracted 400 hopeful attendees — and that many viewers are so energized that they’re barely able to stay in their seats.
Guggenheim follows five children in struggling urban districts as their parents try to find a decent school for them to attend. The kids’ aspirations and devastatingly adult understandings of the stakes are juxtaposed against the educational trajectories they’re likely to have unless Superman soars onto the scene. At the end, viewers must sit through heartbreaking footage of the charter-school admissions lotteries that are the children’s best hopes.
Of course, “Superman” also is very controversial among many education boosters here who believe it unfairly paints teachers’ unions as rigid, monoliths whose members care more about protecting inept teachers than about kids. Members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers even leafleted the film’s Minneapolis opening.
Nonetheless, MFT head Lynn Nordgren was quick to accept Costain’s invitation to speak at next Wednesday’s forum.“She didn’t hesitate,” Costain said. “She said, ‘I hate the movie,’ and she told me why.”
“These conversations can’t be easy for her,” Costain added.
Indeed, as anyone who has seen the film or spent time trying to get a handle on the hydra-headed monster that is the failure of the modern urban public school, they are painful conversations. But Costain is also hopeful that, having stirred passions, Twin Cities educators and the people who love their pupils are ready to stop rehashing what hasn’t worked and start talking about what might.
In addition to Nordgren, the forum will feature Minneapolis Foundation President and CEO Sandy Vargas, Costain, Pastor Andre Dukes of Shiloh Temple, who heads the Northside Achievement Zone, and the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership’s Jennifer Godinez.
Because it is a brave experiment, AchieveMpls has no idea how many attendees to expect. Anyone who knows they will be there is encouraged to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Costain doesn’t want anyone to worry about going without RSVP’ing, however.
She hopes the audience will fill with people who are similarly committed to children, and with people who, because of the movie or for any other reason, might for the first time be considering that they have a role to play in making things better.
“The situation is urgent,” said Costain. “Children of color can learn, and their families are motivated. It is time to create a movement of support.”