Professor Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz: Creating Spaces to Discuss Waiting for Superman ☆

Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Assistant Professor of English Education, has taken on a task both important and exciting: facilitating critical engagement with the film Waiting for Superman in schools of education. Waiting for Superman, a documentary by Davis Guggenheim, is a sharp and moving critique of the public education system in the US. Premiering nationally on September 24th, it has already generated controversy, debate, and scores of emotional responses.

Yolanda’s involvement with the film began last spring when she met Randy Testa, Vice President of Education for Walden Media, the film production company behind Waiting for Superman.  Soon after that, Yolanda and Jolene Lane, Director of the Office for Diversity and Community at TC, were viewing the film. Yolanda immediately realized its importance: “Of course we cried, like everyone did, but after the tears, I realized that there was a lot more to this movie that needed to be unpacked. This was a film that the TC community needed to see and critique and talk about.”

Accordingly, Yolanda and Jolene organized a panel at TC, which included Barbara Wallace, Erica Walker, Michael Rebell, and Jeffrey Henig. And on September 17th, Constitution Day, Teachers College became the first school of education in the US to screen Waiting for Superman.  Since then, it has been screened at the University of Chicago, Stanford, and Harvard, and Yolanda will be participating as an invited panelist at NYU, discussing the film with undergraduate teacher education students, as well as moderating a conversation about the film with members of the Columbia University Scholars Program (CUSP). Yolanda is excited to be at the forefront of creating a space for “teachers, students, faculty, and staff to see this and talk about what’s wrong but also some things that are right in public education.”

These spaces for discussion have led to thoughtful critiques of Waiting for Superman. The panel at TC, Yolanda shares, “was a rallying cry for being critical of what you’re seeing. Ask questions about the effectiveness of charter schools, and don’t just accept the simple viewpoint that it’s us versus them.” While the panel encouraged moving beyond the emotional response and deconstructing the film to uncover the complexities of the public education system, comments from the audience suggested that the voices of the teachers were not adequately represented. “The overall theme,” Yolanda says, “was seeing the film with a critical eye. It’s much more complex than what’s presented.”