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Education Radio on “Won’t Back Down” and the Parent Trigger

 

 

Highly recommended.

On this program you will hear from real parents who are active in education.

“Won’t Back Down”: Corporate Education Reform and the Rhetoric of Fiction

In the past weeks, we have watched with renewed energy and hope as the teachers, parents, students and community members of Chicago have shown us the power of solidarity. Their resistance to the privatization of public education and their demand to reclaim the classroom from hedge fund managers, real estate tycoons, venture philanthropists and their political stooges, is shifting the narrative from one of blaming teachers, students, parents and unions to naming the lies behind corporate ‘reform’ efforts.

This impressive and inspiring ‘actual event’ stands in sharp contrast to the most recent attempt by corporate deformers to manipulate the narrative about schools, teachers, students, parents and where the battle lies in education. Set for release on Sept. 28, Won’t Back Down brought to you by the same people who gave us Waiting for Superman, is selling itself as “inspired by actual events”.  In this week’s program, Education Radio unmasks the lie behind that tag line, the Parent Trigger laws that the film alludes to, and the pretense that this films speaks for anyone except corporate profiteers. At the same time, we will explore the actual events of parents and community members who have opposed Parent Trigger laws, their struggles and their solidarity. 

Leonie Haimson

We speak with five women, all activists and parents. First we hear Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters and a founding member of Parents Across America, tell us about the corporate reformers behind the movie.

Then Caroline Grannan, from Parents Across America talks about parent trigger laws, their genesis, and the uncovering of the astroturf forces behind one attempt to enact the trigger in Compton California.

Rita Solnet

Rita Solnet from Parents Across America Florida and Testing is Not Teaching, saw the movie and shares its manipulative impact, while also contrasting its fiction with the real story of Florida parent activism to defeat parent trigger legislation Florida. 

We also hear from two Lori Frieidline Yuan about the deceit used by the astroturf Parent Revolution, to get a parent trigger law enacted in Adelante, California. She tells about how the parents were first deceived and then worked to have their voices really heard.

Last, we speak with Rhoda Rae Gutierrez, a Chicago parent, and Program Director at the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education.  She talks abut her experiences supporting Chicago teachers during their strike.

Together, the stories these women tell give us a picture of what real activism looks like, and of the knowledge and strength to be gained when parents join teachers to take down corporate reformers their deceitful and dangerous narratives.

To listen to the program, go to Education Radio.

Post Script:

I posted the following excerpts from various reviewers around the country in a previous post. It seems that not too many people are being charter fooled.

From Salon.

“Won’t Back Down”: Why do teachers’ unions hate America?

“Won’t Back Down” is an offensive, lame, union-bashing drama, which somehow stars Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal

So teachers’ unions don’t care about kids. Oh, and luck is a foxy lady. This is what I took away from the inept and bizarre “Won’t Back Down,” a set of right-wing anti-union talking points disguised (with very limited success) as a mainstream motion-picture-type product. Someone needs to launch an investigation into what combination of crimes, dares, alcoholic binges and lapses in judgment got Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal into this movie. Neither of them seems likely to sympathize with its thinly veiled labor-bashing agenda and, way more to the point, I thought they had better taste. Maybe it was that actor-y thing where they saw potential in their characters – a feisty, working-class single mom for Gyllenhaal, a sober middle-class schoolteacher for Davis – liked the idea of working together and didn’t think too much about the big picture.

Perhaps that was a mistake, because the big picture is that the movie is unbelievable crap and the whole project was financed by conservative Christian billionaire Phil Anschutz, also the moneybags behind the documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” which handled a similar agenda in subtler fashion. Even though I personally find the politics of “Won’t Back Down” noxious — and the film seems half-seriously meant to launch some sort of activism, on behalf of whom or what I don’t know — that’s only a small part of the problem. (The politics of “The Dark Knight Rises,” however you want to describe or define them, are probably noxious too.) There’s so much human drama in and around the charter-school movement that it should be easy to tell a powerful story, from almost any perspective you like. Nothing’s off limits in a dramatic context, of course, and given the enormous crap-storm that is American public education, there’s more than enough blame to go around. Let me add that as a known New York City home-schooling weirdo, I hold ambivalent views about the oversize role played in the city’s education battles by its teachers’ union and its longtime head, the fearsome Randi Weingarten. (There’s a Weingarten-like union head played by Holly Hunter in this movie, with Appalachian hard-ass attitude substituting for New York Jewish hard-ass attitude.)

So if you want to make a potent, mean-spirited drama about the failures of unionized schoolteachers and inept education bureaucrats, I say bring the noise. But what director and co-writer Daniel Barnz (whose previous film was the equally stupid “Beastly”) rustles up here is more like simpering, pseudo-inspirational pap, constructed with painful awkwardness and disconnected from any narrative plausibility or social reality.

To read the rest of this delightfully scathing review, go to Salon.com.

Here’s another review from the Huffington Post, Review: ‘Won’t Back Down’ fails to make the grade.

The focus of the save-our-school drama “Won’t Back Down” practically assures it will fail to join the ranks of great, or even good, education tales.

So essentially, it’s a school board meeting. Or school bored. Despite earnest performances from Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as a pair of moms leading the fight, “Won’t Back Down” lives down to its bland, us-against-them title with a simple-minded assault on the ills of public schools that lumbers along like a math class droning multiplication tables.

Theaters should install glow-in-the-dark versions of those old clunking classroom clocks so viewers can count the agonizing minutes ticking by as they watch the movie.

From the Hollywood Reporter

The hot-button issue of public school reform gets unsubtle treatment in this pedestrian and insultingly tendentious drama.

From Dissent magazine:

“Empowerment” Against Democracy: Tinseltown and the Teachers’ Unions

“You know those mothers who lift one-ton trucks off their babies?” says Jamie Fitzpatrick, a working-class mom (played Maggie Gyllenhall), in a confrontation with a corrupt union rep in Daniel Barnz’s edu-drama, Won’t Back Down. “They’re nothing compared to me.

It’s a “you-go-girl” moment. But real moms can’t lift trucks. And just about everything in this movie is as wildly fantastical as that image.

From San Francisco’s Beyond Chron, an excerpt:

School Beat: I am a Public School Parent and I Won’t Back Down (Sorry Maggie!)

The plucky band of misfits inflict their positive change by invoking the “Parent Trigger Law,” which allows parents to take over failing public schools and turn them into charter schools. They essentially bust up the teachers union and corporatize a public institution. The film hits you in the face (and slaps you on the back of the head and punches you in the gut and kicks you in the ass really, really hard with a boot) with vehement anti-public school propaganda.

As a public school advocate and self-avowed annoying PTA lady, I had to pause several times during the film to pick my jaw up off the ground in disbelief. I saw this film the evening before helping to launch a major fundraising campaign at my children’s PUBLIC school. I saw this film after spending a day emailing and tweeting around with other PUBLIC school volunteers about ways to get California parents to vote in favor of PUBLIC education this November.

I saw this film with an open mind and what I saw shocked me.

Another Salon Review, an excerpt:

School reform’s propaganda flick

The first thing to know about Friday’s opening of the school-choice drama “Won’t Back Down” is that the film’s production company specializes in children’s fantasy fare such as the “Tooth Fairy” and “Chronicles of Narnia” series. The second thing is that this company, Walden Media, is linked at the highest levels to the real-world adult alliance of corporate and far-right ideological interest groups that constitutes the so-called education reform movement, more accurately described as the education privatization movement. The third thing, and the one most likely to be passed over in the debate surrounding “Won’t Back Down” (reviewed here, and not kindly, by Salon’s own Andrew O’Hehir), is that Walden Media is itself an educational content company with a commercial interest in expanding private-sector access to American K-12 education, or what Rupert Murdoch, Walden’s distribution partner on “Won’t Back Down,” lip-lickingly calls “a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.”

Walden Media is unique in Hollywood in possessing the will and the expertise to effectively promote the cause of education reform. Its conservative Christian CEO, the billionaire donor and strategist for right-wing causes Philip Anschutz, has built what may be the only media empire ideologically inclined and powerful enough to assemble an all-star, all-union cast to carry water for an anti-union crusade on 2,500 screens in wide release (though apparently not strong enough to get that cast to admit it). “Won’t Back Down” is, as even teachers’ union leader Randi Weingarten admits, an emotionally charged and well-crafted piece of propaganda. For neophytes to the debate — and Walden executive Chip Flaherty has described these people as the film’s target — “Won’t Back Down” will send warm “Stand and Deliver”-meets-”Free Willy”-style fuzzies fluttering around the otherwise cold phrase “school choice.” The company hopes the film’s emotional wallop will linger long enough to drive downloads of the film’s activist tool kit and enlist new foot soldiers in the education reform movement. But the thing is, “Won’t Back Down” is no more useful in understanding the real politics of that movement than Walden Media’s adaptation of “Charlotte’s Web” prepares audiences for careers in chicken farming. But that’s not the point — Walden is aiming for the heart, not the head.

“Won’t Back Down” dramatizes — approvingly — the execution of “parent-trigger”-style laws that have been passed in three states and are being considered in a dozen more. These laws give parents the power to form discontented majorities and sell their local public school to private charter school companies. As critics have noted, there is no mechanism in these laws to take over failing private schools. In the real world, the two instances in which the parent-trigger has been pulled have been legal and community disasters, and there is indication that even charter school companies are wary of taking over entire failed schools as opposed to skimming the cream off of several.

But to focus on the parent-trigger plot mechanism in “Won’t Back Down” is to misunderstand the long-term strategy of the deep-pocketed education reform movement. Its plan is to undermine public education from all fronts, to keep throwing reform bills at statehouse walls and see what sticks. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, the reform movement’s own version of ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), provides legislators with thick “policy combo-packs” and encourages them to file legislation in flurries. Anything that moves the needle of public opinion toward privatizing K-12 is a victory. And it’s a victory for more than just for-profit charter and private school companies. The school-choice army is increasingly diverse. It has a growing “digital learning” wing of technology and software companies eager to “individualize” and “virtualize” American classrooms. There are film education companies like Walden Media, more about which in a minute. There are educational testing companies, such as News Corp’s Wireless Generation, which have been used effectively to pummel public education but have an uncertain future in the brave new unregulated world imagined by corporate reformers. Keeping the alliance flush with tactics and strategy are the libertarian think tanks at war with teachers’ unions and the idea that the rich should pay education taxes to support schools their children do not attend. (Given the movement’s storefront claims to care deeply about poor students of color, it is odd — well, not really — that its lineage begins with the voucher schemes Milton Friedman cooked up in the immediate wake of Brown v. Board of Education.)

From The Nation, Bad Lessons From ‘Won’t Back Down’. An excerpt:

Each character in the new film, about Pittsburgh parents and teachers who band together to take over a struggling school, is crafted less as a believable human being than as a talking point. First there are the students of F-rated Adams Elementary, a tapestry of white, black, Latino and Asian children. But racial diversity is not typical of failing schools; of the seven shut down in Pittsburgh this year because of low performance, two are more than 95 percent African-American, and the rest more than two-thirds black.

Dora

 

One comment on “Education Radio on “Won’t Back Down” and the Parent Trigger

  1. John Young
    September 29, 2012

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

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