If they have subtitles, I should probably watch these two movies someday, back to back, as Ebert did. They're about education, and they sound... as if watching them will make you feel as if you've been punched in the gut, but sometimes that's a good reminder of the reality of the world you're working to change.
"A Small Act" centers on the life story of Chris Mburu, who as a small boy living in a mud house in a Kenyan village had his primary and secondary education paid for by a Swedish woman. This cost her $15 a month. They had never met. He went on to the University of Nairobi, graduated from Harvard Law School, and is today a United Nations Human Rights Commissioner.
"Waiting for Superman" studies the failing American educational system. Oh, yes, it is failing. We spend more money per student than any other nation in the world, but the test scores of our students have fallen from near the top to near the bottom among developed nations. Our scientific and medical institutions employ so many Asians for a clear reason: They must be recruited. There are not enough qualified American students.
Both films are powerful. Seen together, they are devastating. They both end in the same way, with a competition among young students to allow them to continue their education.
Greg borrowed a copy of Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities (about the brokenness of school systems) a few weeks ago; when I saw him in Raleigh he returned it, explaining that he'd stopped reading because it was depressing and gave no answer on how to effect change other than "more money here, please." I thought about that for a while. Books that just go on about how things suck, about the gloom and doom, without a call-to-action... yeah, that's probably suboptimal. Yeah, it's maybe less immediately productive.
But you need to see and be aware of the problem before you can keep your eyes open for solutions. Just because a problem is unsolvable with your current toolset doesn't mean you shouldn't have it puttering somewhere in the back so you can hold it up against new tools you come across. And reading books like Kozol's does do something for me; it makes me aware - at times painfully aware - of the privilege I do have. And I am reminded to be thankful, and to not take it for granted, and to use my opportunities as best I can, and to try and get as many other people as I can to have even more chances than I did, which sometimes also (belatedly) opens up those same doors to me and anybody else.
It's why I teach - because I want to make the kind of world I'd like to learn in.