The Cartel

Alex Klein

Bob Bowdon, director
Bowdon Media
Spring 2009

This documentary film isn't about drugs. In fact, there's almost no violence involved. And its antagonists are funded by your tax dollars. You probably even have a friend who's part of what filmmaker Bob Bowdon calls "the cartel"--the existing educational structure that he claims quells outside competition and is disgustingly wasteful with its resources. Bowdon, the film's director and producer, is a former television anchor, who gave up real news to report fake news over at The Onion. And he's surely used his funny-man skills to provide an entertaining two hours. You'll take off on a roller coaster ride through many popular and contentious issues (like teachers' unions, school funding, and charters) and some less-talked-about topics (like administrative waste, childhood illiteracy, and political patronage). But since it covers so much ground, the film never really digs deeper than a few feet into any of its subject matter. Interviews are cut short (Fordham's own Checker Finn gets his two sentences at around the 39-minute mark) and (strangely inarticulate) defenders of the status quo are left little time to respond. Further, though the film's focus is New Jersey and its host of education dysfunctions, Bowdon doesn't adequately demonstrate how the lessons to be learned from these shenanigans can be applied nationally. That doesn't mean the film isn't full of compelling local stories--tales of porn-watching teachers, eighth-grade-math-challenged security guard applicants, disappearing construction dollars, and sky-high teacher evaluation competency rates for teachers--that help bolster his argument that, at least in New Jersey (though probably in your home state, too), there are many weeds to be killed. Watch the trailer here.

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