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The Cartel

It's Educational

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Bob Bowden has been a New Jersey news anchor for a number of years. After years of reporting on issues concerning his state and our nation, one story finally got under his skin.

He became appalled by Americaís educational system and set about exposing its failures and reasons for its failure. Bowden has an agenda and heís dead set on proving his thesis. Whether or not you agree with his opinions, itís hard to refute his evidence.

The Cartel plays like a Michael Moore film, and like Moore, Bowden rarely talks to dissenters. When he does, itís only to illustrate inaccuracies or to affirm his theory. However, this tactic is a mainstay in any agenda-documentary and Bowden has more than just his opinions ó he has facts. He also chooses one issue that is detrimental to our society and one that does need attention.

Unlike Moore, Bowden doesnít force himself into the film and largely remains a narrator as well as interviewer to many of the filmís voices, which are mixed with archival news footage and clippings. Issues like vouchers, charter schools and the teachers unions ó Bowdenís prime enemy ó divide the film as he exhibits we not only have a subpar education system in America ,but why it isnít adequate.

His first and most pervasive argument is the greed of those working in education. Concentrating on the New Jersey system as a microcosm, Bowden tells us the staggering amount spent on each classroom. While that should be a great thing for students, it seems that none of that money is actually reaching them. Only a small percentage is going to the teacher while the rest seems to vanish. He likens school districts as businesses, hence the title The Cartel, and that many ďeducatorsĒ are only in the system for financial gain. While that may not be surprising, how evasive it is in New Jersey becomes appalling.

Bowden does a great job of creating immediacy for this issue and draws the viewer through a mystery without a solution. The teachers union, he argues, is more concerned about being fair to every teacher than about creating a challenging and supportive atmosphere for students. One truly scary fact is that bad teachers are rarely fired for incompetence or even abuse. One high school English teacher admitting illiteracy after nearly two decades of teaching.

Like many documentaries, Bowden admittedly portrays a biased view of the issue at hand but many of his arguments have the facts to back up his claims. On a purely informational level, itís a documentary youíll want to show to everyone you know with wide eyes and a newfound agenda for education reform.

He creates a sense of urgency through quick editing, even if much of it, especially the music, has an air of cheesiness. Yet itís a documentary with a purpose ó to get information to the viewer ó and in that regard he succeeds.