Movie Rec: The Lottery (2010)

Davis Guggenheim’s Waiting for Superman has been getting a lot of positive press lately (I’ll let you know my own thoughts when I see the film in Bethesda on Friday), so this seems like a good time to draw some attention to a similar movie that hit the film festival circuit earlier this year and is currently available on DVD: The Lottery.

Like Guggenheim, director Madeleine Sackler is also interested in public education reform, though she focuses specifically on the Harlem Success Academies, two charter schools in New York City that get results. The stars of the film are the parents of four children who have been entered in the HSA’s lottery, though we also hear from Joel Klein (NYC Chancellor of Education), Eva Moskowitz (founder of the HSA), and other involved parties. Many of those interviewed are Democrats and Obama supporters, which demonstrates that for quite a few, this issue has transcended party politics. (I consider this an encouraging sign given the Democrat Party’s history on education.)

If you are interested in education reform, you need to watch The Lottery. Granted, many segments will make your blood boil. Parts of the movie, for example, cover the political struggle over the proposed relocation of the second HSA to a larger building that is currently occupied by a failing zoned school, and as you might expect, the infamous ACORN and the United Federation of Teachers both jump in on the side of the status quo. “The United Federation of Teachers is trying to halt the progress and put the interests of adults above the interests of children,” Moskowitz states, and she is precisely right.

There is also a great deal that is poignant in this film. It’s deeply touching, for instance, when the imprisoned father of one of the featured HSA hopefuls expresses his amazement that Moskowitz’s teachers tell HSA students that they will get college degrees. That kind of encouragement, the father relates with tears in his eyes, is something he never received as a boy. This scene and others foster an overall impression that these inner city parents care just as much about their children’s futures as anyone else. The message, then, is unmistakable: denying these parents the right to choose is absolutely criminal.

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