In 2010, battle lines were drawn between two groups of people with the same exact goal — making it possible for the “un-teachable” to be taught all that they needed to learn to succeed — but with very different views on how it should be done. One camp was represented by outspoken leaders like Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada, and Salman Khan and given national spotlight by Davis Guggenheim and Participant Media’s documentary Waiting for Superman. But the other side was less visible, and their voices were drowned out by celebrities like Oprah and Bill and Melinda Gates, a fact that was particularly frustrating because they were the actual subjects of the debate: teachers.
Public education in America had not been rocked nearly this hard since Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and so it was about time to have a national conversation about how best to reach our students in the 21st century and beyond. But NCLB had the side-effect of taking almost all autonomy away from districts and schools and giving control of the curriculum and most other details of the school day to statehouses and the Department of Education. The Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative further distanced teachers and students from the decision-making process. And as Waiting for Superman, the Khan Academy, Scott Walker, and the iPad rose to prominence in the booming education industry, it seemed like the public needed to agree on one thing: teachers were irresponsible, unaccountable for their performance, capable of being replaced by a computer screen, and fearful of losing out on those glorious benefits that come with being a teacher (summer vacations and hardened protections against being unnecessarily fired, not sleepless nights and afternoons, evenings, and weekends spent calling parents, planning for the next day, and crunching student assessment data in order to comply with state and federal regulations).