Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Lottery

This is Part IV of my documentary-palooza series.  You can check out part I, part II, and part III to get more info.  I think it's important to see the variety of documentaries out there to decide which ones are good and which are just good because the topic is interesting, and sometimes they're both.  Back in my life before blogging, I worked in the New York City school system for 2 years.  So watching The Lottery, a documentary about what it means to kids to win a lottery to get into a charter school, is something I've seen.  My first year in the schools, I worked at a public (the documentary calls them zoned schools) performing arts school in Harlem.  My first day I got to go home early because there was a bomb threat.  My second day, a kid stabbed another kid in the face with a pencil - which I could do nothing about since I wasn't covered by the school's insurance (I was a consultant) I couldn't touch the kids for any reason.  Many kids in that class really wanted to learn and were very smart.  They had obstacles I'd never seen or thought about coming from my own rural public school.  My second year, I was assigned to a Charter school in midtown Manhattan.  Their focus was on computers so all assignments were done on computer, were even assigned electronically so the parents were fully aware of them.  I worked with the kids on science fair projects and presentations.  These kids (of all races and economic backgrounds) had been exposed to computers for so long they taught me a lot about how to design a unique presentation.
So this documentary, which is pretty standard fare about things I've already seen and heard about the debate about charter schools, does a great job showing you why going to a charter school will likely be better than the local zoned school.  They talk about the statistics of failing students in the other schools.  What the movie doesn't do well is explain why the parents are protesting a charter school in their area.  The movie makes those parents seem a bit ridiculous to be protesting something that might "save their kids".  And maybe they are letting their pride or ignorance stand in the way, but the movie presents a very biased view of the school system.  It's one I agree with from my own experiences and the fact that I have no idea how to improve public schools, but the film doesn't present one either.  If you're a teacher, particularly outside a major city, this is a terrific watch because they do explain a lot about why charter schools work (I guess assuming that public schools don't do those things, which is debatable).   I haven't seen the other schools documentary Waiting for Superman, but it doesn't hit DVD for a few more weeks, but I'll definitely see it, both because the topic interests me and because it might win the Oscar.  3.5 of 5 stars/lambs

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