Morgan Spurlock: Inside ManJoin us for Season 3 in 2015
July 15th, 2013
01:53 PM ET

Morgan Spurlock: The 'Inside Man' on Education

In preparation for teaching a classroom full of 25 eighth graders, Morgan Spurlock learned about the immersive approach that teachers at Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School in Brooklyn, New York take in order to keep their students engaged, interested and stimulated – every minute of every day.

Those techniques include hand claps, snaps, and affirmations of success among fellow students. And free time – which is rare – is typically spent reading.

Be sure to watch the full Education episode of Morgan Spurlock's "Inside Man" Sunday, July 21 at 10 p.m. ET

Be sure to watch the full episode Sunday, July 21 at 10 p.m. ET

Filed under: Education
soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. RT Garney

    The Education episode is kind of point centered on lower education which to me seems very one sided compared to the issues also plaguing our college education system. Yes it's great and very important to structure our public schools properly and beneficially but what good does it do, when these children are pushed into a college system that costs a fortune and into a workforce without any jobs. The charter school puts so much emphasis on college preparation but are they telling the children that as lower income, they are going to have problems affording college? Are they telling the children that the colleges are as structured as their charter high school was? Some of these children think they can "be whatever they want to be" in this country, which is no longer true. 20% of jobs are outsourced, and there are not enough jobs to go around in many, many industries. What's being failed here, is the fact that our ENTIRE education system needs to be fixed, including college and student placement into the job market.

    August 12, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Reply
  2. C. T. Pelletier

    I missed the first 25 minutes of this episode. Where can I watch the whole episode?

    July 28, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Reply
  3. jim


    Your show on education was interesting and I appreciate that you did not spend an hour slamming American schools. My only negative comment is that I hope that your viewers realize that many of the "model" charter schools highlighted on national TV select their students through a lottery process. Are their students motivated-you bet. Are their parents motivated–you bet. They never show special needs students, gang bangers, and a host of other situations that the real public schools deal with on a daily basis.

    WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO OUR SCHOOLS–READ DIANE RAVITCH'S RISE AND FALL OF THE GREAT AMERICAN SCHOOL SYSTEM–she's a Republican–and true educational historian–she goes after everyone!

    July 27, 2013 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  4. Angie D

    Morgan Spurlock gives a brief overview of the issues with the US education system. One of the key points was the need to give teachers respect and to conduct school in a 'professional' environment – meaning expecting children to view learning as 'their job' and act like it's their job vs a chore.

    My cousin and his wife are teachers. They have said that parents are insisting on less homework because they don't have time for it due to extracurriculars. I don't understand these parents putting extra activities as higher priority over learning. I'm not referring to 90 minutes worth of homework – I'm referring to assigning a one-sided sheet of basic math or practicing spelling etc. If parents view education as a 'bother', the kids will react the same way

    July 23, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Reply
  5. Damon

    Spurlock has obviously done little research into education, especially education reform. Comparing Finland's education with ours is just not really possible. Their is hardly any income-gap inequality happening there, as opposed to the U.S. which is number one in the world. Finland supports healthy and financially secured families through fantastic social programs which helps turn out nurturing environments for the children. But you have the complete opposite when you look at many of our public schools, and so it's really not fair to compare. The major problem is the socio/economic issue here in America. If you want true educational reform, we need to stop turning our public schools into private ones and instead focus on smaller classrooms, more libraries, more funding for field trips, more funding for resources, etc...This type of clapping and snapping crap is silly and actually even scary. It's some robotic response to an authoritative figure that teaches for purely rote learning to teach to the test. There is a serious level of learning which is lost when high-stakes testing schools are supported over our traditional education system. No longer do we engage our students in creativity and critical thinking, no, these charter schools offer far less than what normal public education does and Spurlock's lack of research is disappointing.

    July 22, 2013 at 10:34 pm | Reply
    • Angie D

      Spurlock went out of his way to explain that comparing Finland to the US is not reasonable – he quotes that the US school age population is 10x greater than the entire population of Finland. he points out the disparity in income levels in the US vs the relative consistency in Finland.

      July 23, 2013 at 8:48 pm | Reply
  6. dank

    Interesting piece, but this only focused on positive aspects, and it seemed that all the kids were well behaved. You never talked about the kids who don't behave well in the class room and what happens to them. You also showed a piece of protestors protesting testing, but I'm not sure why you didn't talk to them and see what there take was on the finland and charter schools. One last thing, was the charter school only for latino and black americans? It seemed like the comment was made that the school was only for those ethnic backgrounds. If so, why only those ethnic backgrounds?

    July 22, 2013 at 5:08 pm | Reply
    • geauxteacher

      I appreciate some of the comments here responding to this piece on education and pointing out what are considered "deficiencies" or holes in the story. But I would add that this presentation was particularly refreshing because it made many of the points and asked many of the questions that we the public should be asking ourselves in order to come to a true understanding of the necessary elements for a quality PUBLIC education. Rather than attacking the "failures" both real and perceived/manufactured in the American system, Spurlock laid out the construct of the successful Finnish system in CONTRAST to our own and, if there are lessons to be learned, made it very clear that the path we are currently on is counter to proven success. Some of the points Spurlock made for our consideration:

      1. In contrast to Finland, America while the wealthiest nation, has the highest level of poverty. There is no dispute that there is a correlation between poverty and failure on standardized tests.
      2. Standardized test are not used for high stakes or as a measure of student learning in Finland. Success is not measured the way we do in America.
      3. Short school days.
      4. Long holidays.
      5. Little homework.
      6. Curriculum in the arts.
      7. Spend 20% less per student.
      8. Educators and the education system is built on trust and respect for the profession.
      9. College is free for all students.
      10. Teaching and education are not a competition.
      11. Admission to teacher school is competitive and requires 5-7yrs and a masters degree.
      12. There is no equivalence for "accountability." Accountability is what you have left when you subtract responsibility. Get it?

      Each of these points and more are the foundation for a much deeper conversation that could not possibly be answered in this one hour presentation. But like every good teacher, Spurlock asked the right questions and made us think.

      We speak of creating "models" of quality education in America but we ignore the ones that already exist both here and elsewhere. That's because the model reform has its focus on measures its success in dollars and those dollars are being siphoned away from improving learning opportunities and ino the pockets of those who aim to profit off the backs of children.

      July 25, 2013 at 11:03 pm | Reply
  7. wolfensptz

    Interesting review of the Finnish middle school and the NYC charter school. But I was hoping for more questions and answers about both systems. As I am sure Morgan and CNN knows, there are dozens of elements that make up Education in any country or system. I hope that in the future there will be a week long special dedicated to comparing our system to other countries!

    July 22, 2013 at 11:06 am | Reply
  8. wolfensptz

    Overall a decent thumbnail of a Finnish middle school and a NY Charter school. But, I was hoping for more in depth questions and oranges to oranges comparisons. There are so many variables regarding Education that a one hour program barely nicks the surface. I am hoping CNN will engage in a full disclosure of both systems and how the US can improve our system.

    July 22, 2013 at 11:01 am | Reply
  9. Jennifer Hampton

    Loved your story last night on our education system. I work as a professional development provider in 22 districts and without hesitation, I can tell you that how well teachers are prepared to teach on a daily basis is the critical factor in how well students learn. I hope that in the future you will take things a step further to look at successful systems and how teachers spend their time preparing. In the districts I work in, I see a great need for more structured teacher planning time where teachers work in teams to study student growth and needs. Simply having a planning time is not enough. I bet if you dig deep to see how teachers work together you will find information in these successful models that could be helpful to other schools. Thank you for your story.

    July 22, 2013 at 9:17 am | Reply
  10. oldbones24

    my family made all of us kids (siblings and cousins) pick oranges to learn the value of education and hard work. We all have college degrees and professional jobs now. I hated it but I now thank my parents and grandparents for making us do it.

    July 22, 2013 at 7:48 am | Reply
  11. dave

    Not one word about the crippling unions that have destroyed our education system.

    July 22, 2013 at 2:16 am | Reply
    • Elle

      That's because they haven't. People need to stop blaming the unions (& teachers) for the problems with education. An earlier post mentioned that teacher prep is the key factor. I agree. Unfortunately, teachers are not given adequate time to prepare. The real problem with education ( aside from issues of poverty) is that there are too many (untrained) cooks in the kitchen. Lawmakers impose too many unrealistic, untested, and unfounded demands on educators.

      July 25, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Reply
      • eclecticdog

        Bravo. Good comment! Does dave think Finnish teachers are not unionized? (Answer: they are.) Maybe the problems with US education lay elsewhere (as you point out).

        July 31, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
  12. M. Hardy

    Very interesting and engaging Inside Man on Education. As a fellow educator, I thought that the insight on both perspectives of a structured and unstructured system was very intriguing! Also, I do believe that the profession of education should be treated with the "respect and accolades it deserves." The field of education is not respected by many, and this is disheartening. Also, our (educators) education system is being dictated and mandated by individuals that have never been in the classroom. Let the professionals (actual educators) make the decisions! I thought the documentary was great!

    July 22, 2013 at 1:53 am | Reply
  13. groovity

    we did this kind of thing in second grade, mostly to build math skills.

    July 22, 2013 at 1:28 am | Reply
  14. No one

    No amount of annoying stimulus will keep a student awake if the material is not interesting or relevant to them.
    If they might be interested in STEM fields, they will fall asleep in history no matter what you do, it simply has no bearing on their goals or interests.
    As far as actually useful things like reading and writing, stop making the topics the most boring turds conceived by humans.

    July 22, 2013 at 12:49 am | Reply
  15. Maria

    I couldn't see the education documentary. Please, how can I see it?

    July 22, 2013 at 12:12 am | Reply
  16. E.M. Garrett

    As a teacher, I enjoyed your story about education and am glad you clarified why the Finnish model would be difficult to implement in the US, but at the conclusion, I was really concerned about the welfare of the real students who were not present in those classrooms. I am talking about the ones with mental and emotional issues, those with ADD, ADHD but are not taking their meds, and all the little ones who are dealing with dysfunctional families, no families, broken families who are absent from the classroom due to lack of support from home. Where were the students who were not native speakers of the language being taught? Were they being taught/remediated in another room or building? This response is not meant to be disrespectful; I am just concerned about what happened to so many students! The ones in your story were eerily similar to the ones in my education textbooks where I was told that if I used this/that teaching method all my students would be actively engaged in their learning...and then I stepped into reality!

    July 21, 2013 at 11:44 pm | Reply
  17. Michael Staudenmaier

    The episode had great potential but was internally incoherent. It first lauds Finland for its holistic approach to education and the trust that permeates the system from the government down through the classroom teachers, all of which makes a great counterpoint to the US model of teaching to high-stakes tests. But then the rest of the episode focuses on a charter school that appears to fetishize the recitation of facts rather than the cultivation of critical thinkers. The principal of the school clearly imposes a rigid structure that demonstrates her total *lack* of trust in the teachers, who are required to fill every moment of class time with activities, all in a room where the students face the teacher rather than each other, making it very clear who is expected to be "in control." Williamsburg Collegiate is part of the Uncommon Schools charter empire, which has been aptly criticized for a militarized approach to education as "filling the pail" - an approach that is fully on display here. The always-educational "Answer Sheet" blog at the Washington Post (here: ) last year presented a critique of the approach Spurlock seemingly admires as "a system that, in my opinion, better prepares students for the dutiful obedience of the military than for the intellectual challenges they will encounter in college." As a university-level teacher of US history myself, I have to say that the bit where students engage in the rote recitation of facts about US history - and completely unrelated facts at that - demonstrates exactly why so many of my students are totally unprepared for the sort of critical thinking that is demanded in university coursework. Williamsburg may prepare students for college in math, where facticity is key, but not in the humanities.

    In the end, Spurlock missed the chance of a lifetime to follow through on the criticism of our US system implied in his favorable review of the Finnish one. More time spent with teacher and parents in the Chicago Public Schools system would have been a far better fit than the college prep charter.

    July 21, 2013 at 11:21 pm | Reply
  18. Ruth Cherrick

    I have watched Morgan Spurlock for many years and he always gets you to think about the topic he is presenting. But it is unfair to compare a traditional school vs a charter school in America. I am from Arizona, the birthplace of charter schools, and subsequently have seen the growth of the charter schools and what they have done to our traditional schools. It is not fair to portray charter schools as having more accountability to the state if they are not successful. Such a rule may exist in Brooklyn but it does not exist here in Arizona or in many other states. But much more importantly is the fact that charter schools get to pick who attends; they get to select how much they pay teachers – more in some cases but in many a case they recruit only recent college graduates who they can pay less; they don't have to abide by the rules that the traditional schools must adhere to; the charter schools are typically for-profit companies so as taxpayers we are making some company profitable whether our children are served or not; and finally the establishment of charter schools and their ability to do what they want builds yet another have and have not system in our country with our most vulnerable (our children) paying the price. We should fix our current school system rather than using taxpayer dollars to allow just a select few children to receive the education that all of our children should be entitled to receive.

    July 21, 2013 at 11:05 pm | Reply
    • geauxteacher

      In Spurlock's observation of the charter school and the teachers' use of attention getting "tricks" like finger snapping, he fails to do what his piece as a whole was successful in encouraging the viewer to do to a large degree – think more deeply. His conclusion -"it works." But works to accomplish what? The end result – a teacher with a script unresponsive to individual reaction – which is by necessity squelched by the need to focus on the behavioral modification technique. And you can bet that the students remaining in the classroom are only those willing to conform . It's not rocket science. Like the commercial says, when you say it like that, it makes perfect sense. But Mr. Spurlock, is that really what we're hoping to develop in this generation of kids? Mr. Gates, would you have accepted that when you were in high school? Mr. Einstein, do you think this methodology will develop creative thinkers? Frankly, it's more than ineffective and potentially brain numbing o me. It's downright shocking!

      July 25, 2013 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  19. Name*Ann Elliott

    I thought the visit to the school in Finland really showed how the policy decisions being made in education today by our politicians and business community is hurting American education. The section I take issue with is Morgan's portion on charter schools. A big component of a charter school's "success" is that they get to pick and choose which students stay at their schools. If the student or parents don't comply, that student can be asked to leave be cause they aren't a "good fit.". Public school open their doors and their hearts to ALL children.

    July 21, 2013 at 10:54 pm | Reply
  20. Lacey

    Why? Why yet another profile of a charter school? The dirty secret about charters is there are bad ones as well as good ones...just like public schools.

    Very disappointed that the only footage I've seen of a traditional public U.S. school was of kids with their faces blurred coming through a metal detector. I've worked with teachers who use the same techniques being touted as so innovative every single day.

    July 21, 2013 at 10:43 pm | Reply
  21. D Cavender

    Just listened to Inside Man telling the two children from Finland that children here in the US have one to one and a half hours of homework a day. Not here in Lebanon, TN. My daughter graduated last June and probably had that much homework a month.

    July 21, 2013 at 10:29 pm | Reply
  22. beernpizzalover

    I thought school was out for the summer?

    July 21, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Reply
  23. K.S. Ralston

    Interesting profile about Florida orange pickers. Eye-opening how hard the H-2 workers toll in the fields, kind of modern day "Harvest of Shame."

    July 15, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Reply

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