The film demonizes teachers' unions as the destroyer of public schools, while celebrating charters as the panacea for what ails American education.
It reduces most teachers and their union leaders to one-dimensional, cartoon-like figures.
Another hero is Michelle Rhee, who served for several years as the antiunion superintendent of Washington, DC,'s public schools and now runs Students First, which lobbies for the same free-market approach to education that Waiting for Superman extols.
In Won't Back Down, Gyllenhaal portrays a working-class mother frustrated by her inner city public school's unwillingness to place her dyslexic daughter in a class with a teacher who can help her succeed despite her learning disability.
Discussing the film at the Toronto International Film Festival, he said that school districts should cut pension payments for retired teachers.
The national PTA, which is supposed to be an advocate for public schools, has shown Waiting for Superman at its national convention and at its state and local meetings.And so as school begins in Chicago, it's worth reprinting a recent review of how "teacher movies" have become propaganda pieces as celebrity millionaires from Hollywood push a simplistic version of reality. Holland's Opus (1995), October Sky (1999) and Freedom Writers (2007) -- has been the idealistic teacher fighting to serve his and her students against overwhelming odds, including uncaring administrators, cynical colleagues, a stultifying required curriculum that crushes the spirit of teachers and students alike, dilapidated conditions, budget cuts, unruly and hostile students, or students suffering from the symptoms of poverty or neglect.The underlying message is that while occasionally a rare teacher can light a spark in a few students, our public schools are failing most of the students they are supposed to serve.Gyllenhall eventually leads a group of other frustrated parents to utilize a "parent trigger" law that allows parents to turn their "failing" public school into a privately-managed charter school.Their efforts are opposed by the teachers' union, which the film portrays as insensitive, thuggish, corrupt and the chief obstacle to successful schools.In an essay in the New York Review of Books, educational historian Diane Ravitch summarized the major themes of Waiting for Superman. Test scores are low because there are so many bad teachers, whose jobs are protected by powerful unions.This mantra, which could also apply to Won't Back Down, includes the following: "American public education is a failed enterprise. Students drop out because the schools fail them, but they could accomplish practically anything if they were saved from bad teachers.Guggenheim skillfully tells the stories of these children and their families so that we can't help but root for them to win the lottery and get into the charter schools that, we're led to believe, will unleash their potential rather than stifle their creativity.The film boils down the problems facing public education as simply one of bad teachers, whose jobs are protected by corrupt unions.Not surprisingly, the film's villain is Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.One of its heroes is Geoffrey Canada, charismatic founder of the Harlem Children's Zone, which has raised millions of dollars from business, foundations and government to lavishly fund charter schools and social services in a small part of that New York neighborhood.