Thursday, October 4, 2012

Two Thumbs Down for Won't Back Down

by Phyllis Bush

Last night I took one for the team. I received an invitation from the Parent Revolution to attend free screening of the movie Won’t Back Down. Admittedly, I had read all of the reviews and all of the on line reports of its union bashing message, but I was prepared to watch the movie with an open, if somewhat skeptical, mind. The first thing I noticed was that the cinematography was grainy and faded, and since the audience is told at the beginning of the film that this is based on a real event (although we are never told who or where this might have been based upon), my guess is that the film maker wanted this film to look like a documentary, perhaps the narrative version of Waiting for Superman.

The movie opens with a scene of a harried single mother who is brushing her teeth and getting a drink of caffeine at the same time. She rushes in to get her daughter out of bed because they are apparently late to school. But first, the movie maker wants the audience to see her obvious love for her child as she snuggles with the child instead of getting her up and moving. Several things stood out about this opening scene. The mother’s clothing was borderline trampish; their apartment looked pretty messy and dirty, which offended me on a number of levels. While it is never stated, the inference is that this woman is poor, and because she is poor, her living conditions are obviously squalid.

Even more offensive than the depiction of living in poverty was the characterization and the dialogue. The characters were all stereotypes. What was the point of the love interest between the banjo playing teacher and the dedicated, dyslexic, trampy mother? How is it that the TFA teacher was the only teacher in the whole school who cared about kids?

The union leader is so offensive that the audience must draw the conclusion that this horrid school is the fault of the teachers’ unions. At one point the union leader bastardizes a quote often attributed to Albert Shanker, the founder of the AFT: "When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children." However, in their effort to demonize teachers’ unions and union bosses, they failed to note that Shanker also said:
Public schools played a big role in holding our nation together. They brought together children of different races, languages, religions, and cultures and gave them a common language and a sense of common purpose. We have not outgrown our need for this; far from it.
The aim of the movie is obviously to play on and manipulate the heartstrings of the audience. Obviously, the message is that the secret to fixing the schools is for the parents to take it over even if the big bad bureaucracy and the teachers’ unions don’t want reform. While that sounds like a really swell idea, some of the basic reasons about why this is not a good idea have nothing to do with job security or bureaucracy. How will these schools be funded? Where will they get their facility? How will they staff it? The list goes on and on.

One of the most annoying aspects of the movie is that, like our policy makers, it over simplifies the issues. The bottom line message is that no matter how simplistic an idea is, if it is called “reform,” then is must be a good idea.

Even though Waiting for Superman was also manipulative and simplistic, it was a much better movie than this. Now that I have seen the movie, I no longer have to rely on hearsay to say how I feel about it. However, I can never get back the two hours where I could have been watching some more edifying, like Keeping Up with the Kardashians.


No comments: