September 4 2012

Breaking Up Over “Won’t Back Down”?

Vicki E. Alger

Tensions over a new film coming out this month, “Won’t Back Down,” were running high in Charlotte, NC, during the Democratic National Convention. According to the Los Angeles Times the longtime alliance between the Democratic Party and teachers union is beginning to fray:

Teachers unions have been the Democratic Party’s foot soldiers for more than half a century, providing not only generous financial backing but an army of volunteers in return for support of their entrenched power in the nation’s public schools.

But this relationship is fraying, and the deterioration was evident Monday as Democrats gathered here for their national convention.

A handful of teachers and parents, carrying large inflated pencils, picketed a screening of “Won’t Back Down,” a movie to be released this month starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as mothers, one a teacher, who try to take over a failing inner-city school. …

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has harshly criticized the film, saying it is premised on falsehoods and stereotypes to demagogue teachers. Writing in the Washington Post, she said it contained “the most blatant stereotypes and caricatures I have ever seen.” She said parent-trigger laws actually gave power to for-profit organizations, not parents and teachers…

Such concern for parents is heartwarming, considering that not three years ago the president of a state affiliate to the organization Ms. Weingarten heads, the California Federation of Teachers, likened parents who wanted to sign Parent Trigger petitions to a “lynch mob.” Back in 2010, then CFA President Marty Hittelman wrote:

What’s a lynch mob? It’s when a bunch of angry citizens get together and without any study they decide to lynch somebody. And in this case (the measure), they’re going to lynch their school. If you want to call them a lynch mob, you can, but basically what they’re doing is lynching the school and all the teachers who will be fired and all the kids who will have to go to a different school.

Ms. Weingarten has never apologized. And that’s the problem in a nutshell. No politician of any political stripe wants to be in the position of defending the indefensible—including the reality portrayed in “Won’t Back Down.”

“I can’t wait with 10,000 studies about how being poor affects education. I can tell you being poor sucks and my kid can’t read,” says mother Jamie Fitzpatrick played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. But this mom’s no victim. “Have you heard about those mothers that lift one ton trucks off their babies? They’re NOTHING compared to me.” (Trailer, starting at 24 seconds; and 2.20 minutes)

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