October 12, 2010

Waiting for Superman

Posted: 03:09 PM ET

The following is an essay featured in the companion book to the documentary, from Lesley Chilcott, the producer for the film “Waiting for Superman.”

I’m not a parent, and yet I’ve felt like one ever since I started making Waiting for “Superman.”  Until now, I don’t think I’ve read sixteen books on any single subject ever, to say nothing of hundreds of scholarly studies, research reports, articles, interviews, speeches, and blog postings.   Practically everyone who has attended school has an opinion about what is right and (more important) what is wrong with our educational system.

But no matter how many reports you read or statistics you study, they all fade into the background once you begin spending time with families who are wrestling with the real-world problems that underlie all the arguments—in many cases, families desperately trying to do everything they can to get their child into the one good school in their neighborhood.

We filmed many families over the course of many months and after a short time the kids whose stories we tell in the film became, in effect, “our kids.”  I woke up with them and, with our cameras rolling, saw them go through their morning routines—Emily brushing her teeth, Francisco tucking in his oversized white shirt, and Daisy stuffing her notebooks into the extra large backpack she managed to hoist and carry.  The same routine happens every morning in every neighborhood in every city and, like “our kids,” not enough kids are heading off to great schools.

One Monday morning while we were deeply immersed in rearranging colored index cards containing various story ideas on the wall in our edit bay, Davis came into the production office with an amazing idea.  He’d just read an op-ed piece by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman about a local SEED school and the lottery they used to select students for the coming year.  The SEED schools are the only urban public boarding schools in the country, designed to provide underserved kids with a nurturing round-the-clock atmosphere.  Free from distractions that might exist at home, SEED students live on campus starting in the fifth grade and learn life skills in addition to academic ones.

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September 17, 2010

“You Say ‘They Don’t Get Us’”

Posted: 03:14 PM ET

Below is an excerpt from Rick Sanchez from his book "Conventional Idiocy: Why the New America is Sick of Old Politics".

You say your money’s being wasted! You say politicians – of all stripes – could give a crap about you! And you say that too often the media just puts you in a spin cycle hoping to keep you there long enough to collect. And what do you get? You get the shaft first of all, and then you get what you’re supposed to accept as conventional wisdom. What is conventional wisdom? It’s what we’re told is generally believed by experts.

These experts are often just plain wrong. Conventional wisdom? You say that more often it’s not wisdom at all, it’s really more like conventional idiocy.

Who’s to blame? The media, the politicians, the pundits, business leaders. Okay, they don’t listen to you. I get it. And you know what? At least with some of them, I’m not sure they ever will listen.

Yes, Americans are sick of being spoon-fed the same old bogus conventional wisdom from so-called experts who don’t listen to them. That’s the overwhelming message I hear from you every single day. You’re sick of the old ways, the old politics. You tell me you are skeptical, maybe more so than ever in our country’s past, skeptical of government, skeptical of the media, skeptical of corporations. And you’re showing your skepticism in polling data, on blogs, and – in the new way America connects – through social media.

You’re tired of the BS. Little do they know that you’re wide awake, you’re engaged with what’s going on in the country, and many of you are angry as hell.

Your anger, your concerns and frustrations, is what inspired me to write this book. From you I hear what is really on the minds of ordinary Americans, what you are thinking, what you are talking about, and above all what you’re sick of – from the bankers who recklessly gambled with our money, to the politicians who play on our worst fears and prejudices, to the media demagogues who spread ignorance for ratings. In this book, I talk about all of that and more, and I draw from everything I’ve learned listening to you.

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September 7, 2010

Enough is Enough

Posted: 12:17 PM ET

Below is an excerpt from John Prendergast from his book "The Enough Moment: Fighting to End Africa's Worst Human Rights Crimes".

A human wave in support of the world’s most forgotten people is building. We’re not surfers, but we love how surfers describe the perfect wave. The wave builds to a crescendo, you’re in awe of it, you approach and ride it, and it carries you safely home to your destination. The formation of this human wave was not predicted. A decade ago, few people even knew what a “Darfur” was, how our cell phones directly contributed to making Congo the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman or a girl, or who the “invisible children” of Uganda were. Ten years ago, an event regarding genocide or other crimes against humanity would have attracted perhaps a dozen or so hardy souls, wearing their sandals and psychedelic t-shirts, prepared, if necessary, to break out into a stanza or two of “Kumbaya.”

But today a strange and beautiful cocktail of hope, anger, citizen activism, social networking, compassion, celebrities, faith in action, and globalization are all coming together to produce the beginnings of a mass movement of people against these crimes and for peace. And this is happening at the very time that an American administration is populated by a number of people who have been the leading elected officials to have stood up against genocide, child soldier recruitment, and rape as a war weapon. We call the sheer possibility inherent in this confluence of factors the Enough Moment, and it means that our feeling that Enough Is Enough might actually get translated into real action for change.

These are three of the great scourges of our world, of our time. Genocide, mass rape, and child conscription are the most deadly and diabolical manifestations of war, with the gravest human consequences imaginable. Nearly 10 million fresh graves have been dug as a result of these tactics in East and Central Africa alone over the last twenty years, and countless millions of refugees have been rendered homeless. Sudan and Congo, in fact, are the two deadliest conflicts in the world since the Holocaust.

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September 8, 2009


Posted: 06:59 PM ET

The following is an excerpt from "Hungry: A Young Model's Story of Appetite, Ambition and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves," by model Crystal Renn

9781439101230This is a story about two pictures.  The first is a photograph of the supermodel Gisele. Taken by the photographer Steven Meisel, it appeared in Vogue in 2000. Gisele is in a clingy white gown, posing in a studio against a seamless gray backdrop.

Her skin is golden and gleaming. Her hair is windblown, as if she’s been surprised by a breeze from an open window just out of view. Her hands, her eyes, the curve of her back—everything is graceful and expressive. She’s mesmerizing.

I was fourteen years old when I saw that picture. It was the first time I’d ever leafed through a copy of Vogue. I’d never cared about any fashion magazine; I’d looked at that one only because a man I’ll call The Scout had handed me a copy. He was working for a major modeling agency—let’s just call it The Agency—in New York. His job was to troll the back roads of America, visiting junior high schools and suburban malls, in a ceaseless quest for the next top model.

I had never met anyone like The Scout before. He was urbane and kind, smooth-talking yet sincere. I was dazzled by his shirt. Tailored to perfection, it was probably more expensive than my entire wardrobe. When he opened Vogue to Gisele’s picture, he knew exactly what he was doing. He was planting a fantasy. In the few seconds it took me to absorb all of Gisele’s beauty and allure, I’d constructed a new idea of female perfection. It was Gisele.

That’s when the Scout said, “This could be you.” And even though I was only fourteen and weighed sixty pounds more than Gisele and had all the sophistication of a girl from Clinton,
Mississippi, population twenty-three thousand, I believed The Scout.


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