Gandhi & Waiting for Superman

Enthralling History

The miracle of Netflix means that no movie or television show becomes unavailable. And there are so many produced over the last fifty years that are so very good. I recently re-watched the 1982 Gandhi with my family and have to say it is one of those fabulous movies that’s amazing every time I watch it. Not once did the production feel dated. And even though I’d already seen it, I found myself enthralled with the events and the character played so well by Ben Kingsley. No wonder it won eight Academy Awards.

The movie portrays the last 50 years of Mahatma Gandhi’s life. It starts in 1893, when Gandhi, educated in the UK, is thrown off a South African train for being an Indian and traveling in a first class compartment. Gandhi decides to start a non-violent protest campaign for the rights of all Indians in South Africa. Quite an undertaking in those years. He’s arrested and finds himself in a number of dicey moments, but ultimately brings change.

Gandhi is then invited back to India, where he is considered a national hero. Leaders there urge him to take up the fight for India’s independence from the British Empire. Gandhi agrees and mounts a non-violent campaign of unprecedented scale. Nothing of this magnitude has ever happened in the recorded history of the world. Which is why it’s a rough road all the way to the end.

There’s suspense and humor and heartbreak in this movie. But it goes far beyond entertainment. This movie will move you. It has power to change. This movie is what history should be. If you haven’t seen Gandhi, or haven’t seen it in a while, let me recommend you get it this week and sit down with friends or family to enjoy a wonderful experience.

Education and Teachers Unions

I find it interesting that teachers in Utah, one of the most conservative states in the union, send almost three million dollars each year to the National Education Association. That’s the $165 in NEA dues for each of the roughly 18,000 union members in Utah. This is interesting because the NEA, the largest labor union in the United States, is one of the biggest supporters of the Democratic party.

For example, the NEA spends roughly 85-90% of its direct candidate donations on Democrats. The NEA is quick to point out that those direct candidate donations do not come out of the three million Utah teachers send to them, but from additional donations to one of their political action committees. It’s illegal, in fact, to contribute directly to candidates with money received from union dues. However, there are a lot of other ways to support candidates and causes in addition to direct donations. 

Mike Antonucci, a teacher’s union observer, explains just how that works in his article “How Much Does the NEA Spend on Politics”. The upshot is that the NEA can spend as much as they want on politics with their dues. And the lion’s share of that spending goes toward liberal causes. ACORN, for example, has been a beneficiary of NEA grants.

Now, I don’t see anything wrong with that. People should be able to donate to whatever cause they think is important. The NEA has just as much right to make their voice heard as anyone else. I just think it’s interesting that so many conservatives have been led to donate their cash to these causes. And it’s not just in Utah. About 60% of NEA members identify themselves as conservative or independent. And yet they donate to these liberal causes via the union. What’s even more ironic is that most of them probably do not personally donate anything close to that to conservative candidates and causes. It’s not like teachers have tons of extra cash.

It’s a neat trick to get conservatives to donate so much money to liberals. And perhaps some teachers feel it’s the price they have to pay for the services they want from the union. I would think it would be better to start another union, but that’s me. However, this is not the only kink teachers unions have introduced into the education system.

I’m not going to argue that teachers unions are evil. These unions arose in a time when female teachers were heavily discriminated against. They do some good things. But mixed in with the good is, well, you’ll have decide for yourself if it smells.

A great place to begin is with the documentary Waiting for Superman. You should know this movie came out of the gate with a huge strike against it in my mind–it’s produced by Davis Guggenheim, the same guy who did An Inconvenient Truth. Good grief, that’s all I wanted was another two hours of Chicken Little running around saying “sky is falling, the sky is falling!”

But I didn’t find any of that in the film. For example, the film doesn’t say all American schools are awful. It doesn’t say teachers are terrible. Contrary to what the movie’s critics claim, including the NEA and its many state and local affiliates, the film doesn’t suggest charter schools or standardized testing are the silver bullet answers to our issues. I simply didn’t encounter the sensational propaganda others claimed would be there.

No. What the film does is examine some of the issues in our current system, which put so many children at a disadvantage, and the role the teacher unions play. It does not, as some critics claim, go on to suggest any solutions. It presents a problem, experienced by real parents and children right now, then poses a question: what can be done?

I found it eye-opening and thought-provoking. I think it’s a must-see. If you have children or grandchildren in school, if you’re one of our many fine teachers or school administrators, you’ll want to watch this movie and then ask yourself that same question. What can be done? What works? What’s best for the children? And does the current way our unions operate work in any way against those interests? For those who elect not to go into immediate union-attack or union-defense mode, I think this film will introduce some valuable points to the discussion about education.

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3 Responses to Gandhi & Waiting for Superman

  1. Kate says:

    Precisely why I refused to join UEA. I didn’t want my money (and thereby voice) supporting the majority of NEA’s agenda

  2. John Brown says:

    This is a big reason why my wife hasn’t joined either. There is another group she’s found that provides legal insurance, but she’s still looking into it.

  3. Mahavishnu Rajiv Ganesha says:

    I am all for looking at the rose and ignoring the thorns, however you may wish to consider that you were sold a fake rose and a bucket of thorns.

    Cf. The Gandhi Nobody Knows by Richard Grenier (possible to find full txt file)

    There is also an excellent writeup in Wall Street Journal by Andrew Roberts
    “MARCH 26, 2011 Among the Hagiographers Early on Gandhi was dubbed a ‘mortal demi-god’—and he has been regarded that way ever since”