There's no debating this fact: Monday's show about Waiting For "Superman" and America's education system fired up a lot of people.
From teachers who were enraged because they felt blamed to educators who emphatically agreed with the film's message, we heard from viewers across the spectrum.
"Our education system's going down the toilet," one parent said. "How are we going to compete?"
"I found the overall tone of the show to be infuriating and personally offensive," one teacher said.
Viewers yelled at their televisions, applauded our guests, demanded to hear about parents' roles, defended their unions, cried for the children, addressed the controversy and, in some cases, added to it. One retired teacher and former union rep even said, "The teachers that are complaining about the show are the bad teachers."
"The best time to get people to take action is when they are fired up, like right now," Oprah says.
Meet Geoffrey Canada, the man behind the movie title, Waiting For "Superman."
"One of the saddest days of my life was when my mother told me Superman did not exist," he says in the film. "She thought I was crying because it's like, 'Santa Claus is not real.' [But] I was crying because there was no one coming with enough power to save us."
Geoffrey is also a man with big dreams, an educator who wants to fix public schools in this country. He founded Harlem Children's Zone, a school in the poorest, worst-performing district in New York. There, children attend class from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., from early August through to the following July. For the past two years, the program has seen nine out of 10 of its children go to college.
"A real American hero, you are," Oprah tells Geoffrey. "You have actually become Superman for education."
Geoffrey says fixing America's education system is the most important issue our nation has faced in the past 50 years. "If we don't solve this education issue, our country is going to decline," he says. "But let's wait 10 years? It's going to be too late."
For perspective, Geoffrey compares the education system to a business—if this were the case, he says, no CEO would dare run a company this way. "You would never have a system and a business that has failed for 50 years and continues to exist," he says.
Changes, therefore, must be made. One change Geoffrey proposes is for teachers to work one extra hour a day.
"Imagine your community is burning and you call the fire department," Geoffrey says. "The fire department comes, and they work for a few hours and then they say, 'Oh, we're going home.' You say, 'What about my house?' And they say: 'It's 3. We've got to go!'
Another change he proposes is to remove the obstacles some administrators face when they try to remove teachers who aren't educating children. Again, Oprah tells good teachers that this does not apply to them.
"Can we all just come together and agree that we need to do something and stop fighting with each other, and come together and do what's best for the children?" Oprah says.
Of course, like many viewers pointed out, parents also play a critical role in improving their children's education.
As a father himself, Geoffrey believes in the importance of parental involvement. "It's not simply handing our children off to a school and saying, 'You educate my child, and meanwhile I don't have to pay any attention to this,'" he says.
It's also important for parents to understand the difference between homework and studying. "Your child does his homework, then that's done. Then, they still have to put time in studying so they're preparing," Geoffrey says. "That's why we're being beat by the rest of the world."
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says the film Waiting For "Superman" reminds him of a "Rosa Parks moment."
"When the country looked at Rosa Parks and looked in her eyes and saw her tremendous dignity and saw her humanity, the country was compelled to act," he says. "When you look at the eyes of Anthony and Daisy and the other children in this movie and their parents and their quiet desperation and how much they want a great education and how they know they may be denied that opportunity, it compels all of us to act with a huge sense of urgency. You cannot watch this movie and stay on the sidelines."
Secretary Duncan says education is the key to a better economy. "We used to lead the world in college graduates. Today, we're ninth," he says. "We have to drive reform."
When talking about driving reform, Secretary Duncan says that some teachers unions have been helpful. "Like anyone else, unions can be part of the solution and part of the problem," he says, citing union leaders Diane Donohue and Randi Weingarten as examples of moral leadership.
But it's not just about unions, teachers or parents. This issue affects everyone. "All of us have to move," Secretary Duncan says. "All of us have to continue to be a part of the solution."
Geoffrey agrees. "We cannot allow certain children to fail ... and go on with our lives like those are not American kids," he says.
"I would like to say to everybody who thinks, 'My kids are doing okay': This is your country," Oprah says. "When other kids in your country aren't doing okay, eventually your country won't do okay."
Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, is a politician who's putting his career on the line for the sake of education in his city. Mayor Booker has won high praise for his attack on crime—he cut gun violence in Newark in half—but now he's shifted his focus toward fixing the city's broken public school system. Newark currently spends more per student than any other city in the country, but they also have some of the lowest test scores in the nation, and almost half of the city's students don't graduate.
"The crisis in education in Newark is the crisis in education in America," he says. "So I'm declaring Newark the front lines in the fight for education reform."
Mayor Booker says Waiting For "Superman" is a vital film for our times. "It elevates something that has been too long ignored. We've accepted a level of failure that we should not," he says. "Failure is not an option, but it's one we've chosen for far too long by ignoring the truth."
Many parents want a great education for their kids, Mayor Booker says, but it's not always in their control. "We should not live in a country anymore where your destiny is determined by how much money you have in your pocket, by what zip code you were born in or by the pick of a [lottery] ball," he says.
There are some great schools in Newark and in cities across the country, Mayor Booker points out. The challenge is to make those schools the norm. "What gives me hope is that Newark has shown these incredible islands of excellence," he says. "But we have failed in America, and in any city, to transform the islands of excellence, the great schools in cities like mine that are working, into hemispheres of hope."
Bringing all the schools in his city up to those standards of excellence is Mayor Booker's current battle. "You cannot have a superior democracy with an inferior education system," he says.
But a fight this big can't be fought alone. "We cannot achieve the level of success [we want] unless everybody gets in the game," he says. "Democracy is not a spectator sport. And what upsets me is we've lulled ourselves in America into a state of sedentary agitation, where everybody can sit on their couch and get upset about what's going on but not get off their backsides and realize that they are responsible for the change that they need to make."
Americans need to remember the sacrifices made by our ancestors and follow that example, Mayor Booker says. "We who drink deeply from wells that we did not dig, we who eat lavishly from banquet tables set up for us by the sacrifices and struggles of our ancestors, are we just going to luxuriate in all that's America?" he says. "Or are we going to realize that this nation has not finished itself yet, and we must return the blessings of our ancestors by showing the same sacrifice and commitment?"
Mayor Booker believes his city can lead the change in education across the country. "My dream is that in Newark we aggressively attack this issue, everybody stands up and comes together and manifests a level of student achievement that's not just for the fortunate few but is for everyone," he says. "I think in Newark we can do this."
To make this happen, residents must come together and stop blaming each other for the city's problems, Mayor Booker says. "When you blame somebody, you almost try to forgive yourself of any responsibility," he says. "That will never solve this problem. We must find a way to get everybody to the table. ... Everybody must be willing to sacrifice something. There's no easy way to accomplishing this mission."
For months, Mayor Booker has been working with Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to put politics aside and help turn around the failing schools in Newark.
"What I'm committing to is changing the schools in the city where I was born and spent the first years of my life," Gov. Christie says. "Mayor Booker is going to be the point person, our lead guy in Newark in helping to develop this entirely new plan of how to reform the education system in Newark and create a national model. I'm in charge of the public schools in the city of Newark as governor, and I'm going to empower Mayor Booker to develop that plan and to implement it with a superintendent of schools that we are going to pick together."
For his part, Mark is investing in these leaders to initiate change. "I've committed to starting the Startup Education Foundation, whose first project will be [to set up] a $100 million challenge grant [for Newark]," he says. "Every child deserves an education, and right now that's not happening."
Mark says he chose Newark because he believes that Mayor Booker and Gov. Christie can deliver on their promises. "Running a company, the main thing that I have to do is find people who are going to be really great leaders and invest in them," he says. With this grant, Mark hopes that his partners in this project will have the flexibility they need to implement new programs and turn Newark into a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation.
Though Mark made the decision to set up this $100 million education grant months ago, many people might question the timing of his announcement given the upcoming release of The Social Network, an unauthorized film about the founding of his company, Facebook. But Mark says the two are unrelated.
"It's a movie; it's fun," he says. "A lot of it is fiction, but even the filmmakers will say that. They're trying to build a good story, but I'm going to promise you, this is my life, so I know it's not so dramatic."
Despite what may be in the film, Mark says most of his time over the past six years has been spent focusing, working hard and coding Facebook. "Maybe it would be fun to remember it as partying and all this crazy drama," he says. "Maybe it will be an interesting story."
Now that this partnership is in place, Mayor Booker says the next step is to get the people of Newark involved. "Nobody gets a pass. We need to take leadership from parents, from teachers and from students themselves," he says.
Though a plan hasn't yet been formulated for exactly how the millions will be used, the three critical focuses must be to support teachers, design systems of accountability and support schools of excellence, Mayor Booker says.