The Inconvenient Truth about... Reviewing you own film... Some observations on 'The Inconvenient Truth About Waiting for Superman'

[Editor's Note: We were tempted to put this note at the end of this article, but given that the producers of "The Inconvenient Truth about Waiting for Superman" are in need of money as they work to create 3,000 more copies of the DVD, it should be here. Teachers and friends made this powerful film, and it needs to be viewed by everyone in the USA who cares about public education and who loves democracy and teachers. The hypocrisy of the privatizers and their apologists — especially the charter school pushers — is clear in every minute of the film. So... Both ICE and GEM in New York need contributions to bring the film to all 50 states and the nation's 100,000 public schools, as many at the premier suggested. Norm Scott, whose video record of hundreds of demonstrations and other actions in New York City over the past decade helped make "The Inconvenient Truth..." possible, suggests that people donate to helping the film get out. If people want to send money, Scott writes, checks made out to Ed Notes Inc, 518 Beach 134 St, Rockaway Park, NY 11694].

Let me make this quick about our just released movie, "The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman" (ITBWFS now for short), made by our production "company" Real Reform Studios. The movie made by NYC teachers, parents and students in response to the recent attacks on public education, teachers and their unions and specifically the "Waiting for Superman" movie lauding charter schools, in a few short days since its world premiere in front of an audience of 700 people at Riverside Church, is going viral. Our guest speaker, the always awesome Diane Ravitch, tweeted to 13,000 people how great the movie was and we have distributed a thousand dvds in 4 days. Requests have poured in from all over the nation - and from Canada, Mexico and Israel too. We are ordering 3000 more. We are not looking to make a dime on this (though we encourage contributions to cover our costs) and we tell people to "steal our movie - go forth and make copies and distribute widely." I'm hoping I can arrange a showing here in Rockaway real soon. Look for info in The Wave.

Part of the audience at New York's Riverside Church for the world premier of The Inconvenient Truth about Waiting for Superman on May 19, 2011. GEM photo by Darren Marelli. One of the ironies so far is how strong the response has been from some NYC public school principals while we have heard little from the UFT (the United Federation of Teachers, the New York City teachers union local of the American Federation of Teachers). We'll keep tracking that story. Since the film was made by members of the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM), a NYC based group fighting to defend public education, I wonder if the UFT sees the movie made without a budget (using my cheapo camera, imovie to edit, etc.) as a threat. After all, as a 100 million dollar plus organization, the UFT certainly had the resources to do such a movie. Here is a tale of how this movie has led me to sell out. Yes, I was asked to be principal for a day.

Brian De Vale, Principal of PS 257 in District 14, made me an offer I couldn't refuse — a parking spot in his schoolyard, lunch and a serenade from him — if I would come to the school May 23 and serve as principal for a day. Ahhh, the power. I would cancel all the high stakes tests. I would rate teachers on how they relate to their students and on the responses I see from their students to their lessons and not on tests. I would ban all bureaucratic officialdom from the school. And away with all the useless paperwork that feeds the data monster. What glory!

Brian for some reason wanted to honor me for the work I've been doing battling the ed deformers through my Ed Notes blog and GEM. He was my guest at the premiere of the ITBWFS on Thursday night and was thrilled to meet Diane Ravitch. Brian is a guy who really gets it. Before a recent District 14 CEC meeting, he held a pizza party attended by a bunch of other principals. Brian made one of the most incisive statements about what ed deform is doing to education - a total condemnation of the neo-liberal agenda though that is not the term he used.

Brian told me to arrive at 10:30. When he introduced me to the security guard as principal for the day, she laughed and said, "My principal gets here at 7AM." Nice!

Brian's aim was to use our film to educate his own staff about the ed deform agenda. I got to show a piece of the film at different lunch hours. The first thing I told them was I will uphold their right to a duty free lunch hour so they should leave if they want to. I was pleased to see Elizabeth, a former student from my 1975 6th grade class and a teacher at the school. Elizabeth is already a grandmother. Oy!

Many of the teachers seemed truly unaware of the threat they face from charters and privatization. I learned something myself from the experience of watching the film with them.

You know our theme at Ed Notes — and in GEM— Educate! Organize!! Mobilize!!! - each action building upon itself. I assumed our film would reach people who were already aware of the attacks - already educated on many of the issues – that it would help move them to the next steps of organizing and mobilizing. But here was a group of teachers who have been somewhat insulated by a great principal who fiercely protects them as much as he can. There is no charter pushing into their space and they are not threatened with closure. So I saw for myself their reactions as they watched even a small portion of the film. They truly seemed shocked.

Then I was invited to chair the School Leadership Team (SLT) meeting over a delicious lunch. What? SLTs still exist? Brian explained that at PS 257 the SLT makes real decisions. The discussion ranged over the Tweed attitude towards parent involvement - their aim is not to get input from parents but to explain their policies to parents and use them politically.

After the meeting I was invited by a teacher to observe a science lesson on plants. I was told this was a difficult class. The kids were gathered around a table with soil and plants. They were enthusiastic and every question led to a gaggle of eager raised hands. I was impressed.

Then the school tech person asked me to try to solve a problem in getting a triple dvd burner to work. Ahhh, now I was into the meat of what I used to do in my last decade in the system. After an hour I still hadn't gotten it to work. Looks like when it comes to tech stuff, nothing has changed. I just know enough to get into trouble.

It was interesting how slow the Internet was and how some of the DOE filters made getting stuff done quickly so frustrating (I was trying to download drivers and software for the dvd burner.) Actually, I would say from this narrow experience, tech at the DOE has gone backwards since I left the system.

I stopped by Brian's office to thank him where he serenaded me with a song. My hearing may be off bit — I think I heard the words "Waffles Walcott" — Brian reminded me of the day Walcott became chancellor he did his waffles PR stunt at PS 10. Brian also made waffles for the kids that same day. There was no massive press corps to watch him.

Norm blogs at His email is


May 27, 2011 at 1:22 PM

By: Sharon Schmidt

Inconvenient Truth about Waiting for Superman

Great story, Norm, about your sell out position as principal for a day. Wonderful that Brian De Vale is as good as you in his regular position.

You write about the teachers and school in such a positive way it reminds me (very slightly) of the Chicago Tribune puff pieces of Wednesday (Marshall HS's latest super-duper principal of change) and today's piece about our new CEO Brizzard's first school visits yesterday to Guggenheim elementary and Juarez HS.

I was thinking, however, that it would have been cool if he had come to my high school yesterday for his first CPS visit. He could have seen the crazy reforms his kind of people have put in. Our students were taking their first day of their third (or sixth, for the freshman) round of standardized testing of the year. The sophomores were taking a practice ACT test (all five tests) in the morning, before theys went to the rest of their classes. THey took a practice ACT test in February as well.

WHat's it like to keep testing the students? Obtaining these test data comes with a price. More fights in the afternoon. A ridiculous day of non-teaching and non-learning after the tests. A complete disregard for what any human being in the school needs on the two days prior to Memorial Day weekend and final exams.

The boss of my boss came to our school last spring and gleefully announced this additional testing.

But... and why? I said.

It will improve thier confidence, this man said. Taking test and test will improve their confidence, he said. This from a man appointed to set school policy for more than 20 high schools. A person who never taught a high school student in his life.

May 28, 2011 at 7:43 AM

By: Larry Duncan

Bringing 'Inconvenient Truth' video to Chicago

It would be great if the CTU or CORE could organize a nice big public showing of this important video in Chicago. Raise funds for the producer, too.

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