‘The Cartel’ – A frightmare on education street

‘The Cartel’ – A frightmare on education street

The Cartel Bob Bowdon

Three very different horror movies hit theaters this weekend.

One reboots an ’80s franchise, “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” while another introduces us to a new movie monster – the mad surgeon in “The Human Centipede.”

“The Cartel” might be the scariest of them all, especially if you have school-age children.

The documentary examines the New Jersey public school system, an outfit that makes Tony Soprano’s gang look downright ethical given the wealth of corruption detailed in the film.

“The Cartel,” from first-time filmmaker Bob Bowdon, unveils a numbing list of reasons why students in New Jersey are either failing – or dropping out – at alarming rates.

Teachers who can’t be fired – even if they can barely read. Janitors pulling in six figure incomes. Bureaucratic bloat of comical proportions. Millions of tax payer dollars disappearing into thin air.

Bowdon talks to just about everyone tied to the Garden State’s educational system – the film features more talking heads than any five documentaries combined.

The problems chiefly boil down to the teachers unions, we’re told. The powerful unions defend the status quo, smite attempts at reach change and protect people who stand in the way of the students’ educational dreams.

And Bowdon says the lessons being learned the hard way in New Jersey can be applied to educational ways in the remaining 49 states.

The film’s biases are obvious – the director believes school choice in the form of vouchers and charter schools offers the best chance of educating today’s students. A little competition, Bowdon argues, might even bring struggling schools back from the brink.

But he doesn’t stuff his film with ideologues. We meet Democrats and Republicans alike who bemoan the educational system and meet people from all walks of life decrying a system that appears hopeless. The segments featuring people playing the race card to damage the validity of school vouchers might be the most depressing.

The core material here, while alarming, can make for a dry presentation. And even the addition of simple animated sequences doesn’t mean the film avoids feeling like a college level lecture.

Bowdown appears to cut off a few of his interviews too quickly. It’s possible the experts had already spoken their peace, but given the political nature of the documentary he would have been better served by giving them more screen time.

Even critics who dismiss vouchers as a solution to modern educational woes will still find the horrors presented in “The Cartel” impossible to refute.

(Photo: Bob Bowdon talks to people about the failing New Jersey public school system in “The Cartel,” out in select theaters April 30.)

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

blackhawk12151No Gravatar April 30, 2010 at 4:27 pm

It seems that their is a shift of opinion with regards to teacher’s unions, even among those who were traditionally supportive of the unions. My mom is a teacher and taught in private schools her whole life because she didn’t want to be a part of the unions. I was fortunate that I was able to go to a private school that was focused on educating me rather than appeasing the unions.

Hopefully filmmakers like Bowdon can continue to highlight the failings of the public school systems.

JimmyCNo Gravatar April 30, 2010 at 4:42 pm

It amazes me that there are still people who think that our public schools are failing because “we’re not spending enough money on them”. We spend thousands of dollars per kid, every year. We spend twice as much on education as we do on national defence. “Books not bombs” my ass.

Sadly, the people who need to see and be influenced by this film are the very ones who will avoid it.

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