Documentary Analysis: Waiting for Superman


Waiting for Superman is a documentary directed by Davis Guggenheim to highlight the gaps that lower the quality of American education. While other countries appear to be making significant strides in enhancing the quality of their education, the U.S. is on the decline with its students performing poorly in Math and Science subjects. However, many young people have higher confidence levels than other students around the globe, a move that encourages them to engage in meaningless activities that expose them to a wide range of risks. The documentary pokes holes in the lottery system that is used to administer students to the charter schools.

The Lottery Methodology

By using the lottery method to admit students to charter schools in the U.S., the country gambles with the quality of education because of its inability to create a level ground where individuals can exploit opportunities and discover their potential. Given the failure of the charter schools to accommodate all applicants, the use of lottery systems creates and promotes deviance, a concept that is described by the structural functionalism theory. In this theory of deviance, the system creates a mentality of “us against them,” where those who fail to secure positions in the charter schools develop a negative perspective towards the community and those who are admitted to the learning institutions (Weber, 2010). Students who are rejected by the lottery system are compelled to view themselves as failures, an aspect that can be rectified by improving the quality of education in public learning institutions. From this realization, the development of specific structures to sieve young people creates a series of social problems that affect their perspectives towards life. 

Hidden Curriculum in Education

The “Hidden Curriculum” in education refers to the unwritten rules of existence that define the nature of interactions in the learning environment and beyond. While learning institutions focus on aligning the perspectives of young people with societal expectations, their interactions with other people from different backgrounds expose individuals to the realities of life (Huddleston & Helfenbein, 2018). By observing and emulating certain practices, the perspectives of young people are shaped and molded to conform to social expectations. Conflict theorists believe that the “hidden curriculum” has a far-reaching impact that affects the views held by individuals towards activities taking place in their surroundings. 

Despite the views held by young people towards life, the “hidden curriculum” exposes students to a challenging environment where they have to choose between their lives and social expectations. One of the components of the “hidden curriculum” includes the break time where students shift their attention from studies to other activities within a limited timeframe. Any attempt to interfere with the time allocated to the break is perceived differently by students because of its impact on their ways of life. Therefore, creating viable solutions that appeal to the youthful population in learning institutions might have a significant effect on the focus of individuals towards life.

Gatekeeping and Tracking

Gatekeeping involves attempts by learning institutions and other stakeholders to control the level of education that can be accessed by students from a specific background. By embracing the lottery system, the chartered schools have the final say over the number of students who can progress in the academic environment. In the same vein, instructors and school administrators contribute to deviance through tracking, which separates students by phasing them according to their abilities and background (Pabon, 2016). Children who are exposed to these processes develop a negative attitude towards education and the society at large because of its discriminatory impact that affects the views held by individuals towards life. In the documentary, the viewers can connect with the emotional appeal that is felt after students are phased out by the lottery system. 

Rist Research and Teacher Tenure

Instructors play a critical role in the realization of potential among young people in their immediate environment. In 1970, Ray Rist explored the impact of the approaches used by instructors to connect with children in their early stages of growth and development. The research, dubbed the Rist Research, found out that children are affected by their instructor’s perspectives towards them (Blakley & Nahm, 2018). At any given time, students excel when their instructors are confident about their abilities and other aspects revolving around the learning process. In the documentary, school administrators are portrayed to have lost hope in the quality of education being offered in the country, a move that influences the perspectives of students towards life. 


 The Waiting for Superman documentary by Davis Guggenheim pokes holes in the lottery system that is used to administer students to the charter schools. On many occasions, individuals are expected to benefit from the measures embraced by learning institutions to create a generation of responsible people who are aware of situations taking place in their immediate environment. However, the film demonstrates the missing links caused by inequality, among other atrocities that affect the perspectives of individuals towards life. Regardless of the measures adopted by learning institutions in the world today, the systemic discrimination of students from low-income backgrounds defines their negative perspectives towards life. Improving the quality of education has a significant impact on shaping the individual mindset and molding their understanding of life. 


Blakley, J., & Nahm, S. (2018). Accounting for Taste: Using Propensity Score Methods to Evaluate the Documentary Film, Waiting for “Superman.” In Arts Evaluation and Assessment (pp. 271-295). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Huddleston, G., & Helfenbein, R. J. (2018). Waiting for Superman: A cultural studies analysis in the nightmare of the present. Pro-Posições29(1), 322-338.

Pabon, A. (2016). Waiting for Black Superman: A look at a problematic assumption. Urban Education51(8), 915-939.

Weber, K. (Ed.). (2010). Waiting for”SUPERMAN”: How We Can Save America’s Failing Public Schools. PublicAffairs.

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