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Oprah-Waiting for Superman

September 22nd, 2010 by jacqueline

A few weeks ago, Oprah featured the powerful new documentary Waiting for Superman. Her panel included Bill Gates, David Guggenheim, and Michelle Rhee.  I was invited to bring our eight Nettelhorst moms to Oprah’s LIVE follow-up show from Chicago. It was quite a morning: Oprah, along with Governor Chris Christie, Mayor Corey Booker and Geoffrey Canada, applauded Mark Zuckerberg’s 100 million gift to the Newark public schools. Arne Duncan thanked him from Washington.

I should have left the Oprah taping elated. After all, we were part of a select group of education-minded Chicagoans who her producers thought would make-up a good audience (I peed in my pants when I got the call). We got to screen the movie the night before. Before the show, my friends and I danced the O-O-Oprah dance, which is pretty fun to do if you are actually in the studio. During the show, Oprah implored viewers to go to Waiting for Superman, a movie that everyone in America should see. In the taped discussion after the show, she called on our supermom Barri Liner for the first comment, and Bari managed to give a shout-out to Nettelhorst. And, you know, it’s O-p-r-a-h.

But no, I felt rotten. My friends were peeved that I couldn’t just enjoy the moment. No, I didn’t want to go to lunch and celebrate. I wanted to go home and sulk.

Here’s my problem: Oprah had spent a whole hour, actually more if you count the after-show, without offering a real game plan for what her viewers could do to help. It’s fantastic that Mark Zuckerberg donated a 100 million to Newark schools, and it’s laudable that Oprah handed out seven million-dollar gifts to high-performing schools just days before. Yes, Geoffrey Canada is a force of nature. But, most people don’t have millions of dollars burning a hole in their pocket, or the resources to transform all of lower Manhattan.

Imagine if Oprah had emphatically directed all her millions of viewers to the United Way’s Waiting for Superman action page?  Imagine if all those people clicked on Donors Choose, searched for their local neighborhood school, and committed to support a teacher’s project proposal? What if everyone followed-up with a call to the school, asking the teacher what else she needed? What if people all over the country took it a step further, and decided to gather-up a some friends, march right over to their neighborhood school, and ask the principal what they could do to help?

The United Way has endorsed our blueprint. So has the national PTA. Groupon, Free Range Kids, and Mamapedia, have been super helpful getting the word out. There’s no one magic bullet to fixing education, but if normal people knew that they had the power to create change in their own community, I think we’d have a huge part of the problem licked.

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