Posts Tagged ‘Won’t Back Down movie’

The 3 Big Lies in the Won’t Back Down movie

Friday, September 21st, 2012

I saw the “Won’t Back Down” movie last night. The crowd loved it, and I would have liked it, too, if I hadn’t known why it was produced or been aware of the three big lies at the heart of the movie.

After all, it’s just a movie, right? And a successful feel-good movie at that. Not being at all connected to reality (despite the big announcement at the very beginning that it was “inspired by actual events”) shouldn’t matter, right? I mean, did “Coma” accurately depict the way medicine really works? Could scientists reproduce all the effects in the “Star Wars” movies? Would a celebrity impersonator like “Dave” really get away with switching places with a comatose president and make government serve the people again?

Of course not, and no one attacks those movies’ accuracy.

The difference here is that the producers of “Won’t Back Down” have publicly acknowledged that the movie was designed to sell parent trigger laws to parent and state legislatures. Our screening in Chicago was introduced by, among others, a staff member from New Schools for Chicago, which pushes charter schools. The “goody bag” we were all promised at the end of the movie ended up being a WBD totebag with a brochure for New Schools for Chicago in it. Oh, goody.

As propaganda, then, the movie’s lies are fair game.

WBD Big Lie #1: Teachers union contracts do not allow teachers to stay after school to give children extra help.

Anyone who has been in a public school for more than 10 minutes knows this is a lie. Teachers are there after school, before school, and during lunch and recess helping students.

But this lie is a critical dramatic device in the movie, Mom Maggie Gyllenhaal’s first major “aha” moment. When she runs into the classroom in the middle of what passes for a lesson in Terrible Teacher’s room, demanding that the teacher stay after school and tutor her child, the teacher says, “School ends at 3 pm.” Mom runs out of the room, a furious and defiant look on her face. Later conversations reinforce the lie that teachers are not allowed to stay after school to “give the children what they need.”

WBD Big Lie #2: School turnarounds result from parents and teachers voting to “change the school.”

The movie shows teachers agonizing over their vote on the”Fail Safe” program, the movie’s name for the parent trigger. But the real parent trigger laws DO NOT ALLOW TEACHERS A VOTE OR A VOICE. One could brush this difference off as mere dramatic license, but the movie depends completely on the alliance between Mom Maggie and Teacher Viola Davis, who is depicted as an angel of a teacher as well as a deeply loving mother. Yet the premise is a lie.

WBD Big Lie #3: Great schools are easy.

This was honestly the most idiotic part of the movie. Not that it’s easy to portray something complicated in movie language. But really. Mom Maggie goes to the district office. She has coffee with the receptionist who tells her about the “Fail Safe” law. Maggie’s takeaway? All you need to turn a school around is to “get one teacher, and  stick it out.”

Later we see Mom With Two Part-Time Jobs and Dyslexia personally writing a 400-page proposal for the new school, which includes fun “ideas” from various teachers like “field trips” and “Shakespeare.” Hero Teacher Viola contributes the idea that the curriculum should be “integrated.”

Yes, it’s a movie. “Coma,” “Star Wars” and “Dave” didn’t have to prove that they were valid in the real world.

But when people use a movie to disrupt and potentially damage the real lives of real children and real adults, they do have to be held accountable to the rest of us.

PSAT for 8-21-12: Go local or go Hollywood

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Things are really heating up in the fight over the parent trigger propaganda movie, “Won’t Back Down.”

Corporate reformers concerned that their secret agenda behind the big Hollywood movie is being exposed have now launched an attack on Parents Across America. Folks, the best response to this is to continue to tell parents the truth about the movie and the parent trigger. Please continue to share PAA’s Rita Solnet’s review of the movie and fact sheets by PAA’s Caroline Grannan and Leonie Haimson.

Also upcoming events courtesy of Raise Your Hand news:

Tuesday 8/21- Lincoln Square Meeting
Location change for meeting hosted by CTU and Parents 4 Teachers:
Old Town School of Music
4545 N. Lincoln Avenue

5:30 socializing, and meet and greet
6:30 forum, q & a, & discussion break out groups

Tuesday 8/21 –Rogers Park Meeting 6:30pm
Senn High School – 5900 N. Glenwood
48th Ward Education Information Meeting hosted by Alderman Harry Osterman.

Reps from both CPS and CTU will be at this meeting to answer questions, updates on 48th Ward Education Initiatives.

Board Meeting tomorrow – Wednesday 8/22
CPS is scheduled to vote on the budget tomorrow. We have a few questions – such as why is CPS increasing funding to charters by $76 million in a year when they are draining the reserve funds? Why are they increasing the Portfolio Office by over $5 million? Our neighborhood schools need attention and many of them have received cuts this year.

CPS is increasing funding to some charter operators who have schools performing below CPS average. As one example, UNO is receiving $10,132,678 in new funding this year. Issues around funding for charters vs. traditional schools are complex. We question why this big of an increase this year, when we are cash-strapped and moving on to an even bigger deficit next year, and what is the criteria CPS is using to make decisions around charter expansion?

Parents and community members should have a voice in what happens to our schools and we will be paying close attention and reporting on the defunding of neighborhood schools that we see that reside within blocks of charters that are receiving huge increases in funding.

Come out and support RYH at a fun event 8/28 in Rogers Park

Political guru Don Washington is hosting a tutorial on education for RYH on Tuesday, 8/28. This is an interactive, informational, agitational fun event on the state of public education in Chicago. Come out to the Heartland Café on 8/28 at 7pm to support RYH and join with other parents, teachers and citizens who care about public education. The Mayoral Tutorial believes democracy is a contact sport and participatory activity. We’ll play games, learn things, taunt the powerful and hear from a surprise guest.  Check out the website at

Tickets are $25. Please email us and let us know if you can attend:

Event details:

Heartland Café – 7000 N. Glenwood
Tuesday, 8/28 – 7pm

What’s NOT in the Won’t Back Down Movie

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Today’s Washington Post Answer Sheet offers this common-sense response to the Won’t Back Down movie written by Rita Solnet, a founding member of Parents Across America. Rita went  to a screening  of the film yesterday and had this reaction to what she didn’t see:

I didn’t see parents talking to teachers to help improve the school. No sign or talk of School Advisory Councils, of PTAs, not even parent friends talking to each other over coffee about how they could organize to speak to the principal or district or board to improve the school. Not all principals are underhanded and despicable as they are in this movie.

There were no scenes or discussions of parents at school board meetings to formally complain and formally request solutions be put in place. When you organize and speak as a group, you can be heard.

Why was this mom and teacher’s first step to conduct a takeover?   Because it is fiction.

Read the full review here; more to come.

PSAT for 8-14-12: Let’s not back down!

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Public Schools Action Tuesday for today is to keep up the pressure on the Teachers Rock event and Won’t Back Down movie.

Please especially work on your local movie and/or entertainment reporters. They are no doubt receiving buckets of slick PR material from Walden Media, the producers whose Waiting for Superman propaganda sucked all the air out of the school reform debate for a couple of months in 2010.

Here’s a great FAQ on the WBD movie and the parent trigger from Parents Across America to add to the “Just the facts” piece I sent around earlier.

I’m trying to get to Roger Ebert and a TV entertainment reporter I know but we need all hands on deck across the country!

We are beginning to get through to some reporters and even a star or two, as evidenced by this blog post by the great Jose Vilson:

I rarely get the opportunity to have my opinion come in direct conflict with an outstanding actress of any repute, so excuse me if I brag via quote today. The following excerpt was published in the independent media outlet In These Times, written by Josh Eidelson:

Vilson says he was particularly disappointed by Viola Davis’ participation, given The Help star’s past comments about wanting to elevate the voices of often-ignored domestic workers.

“You should also see the alignment between that and what’s going on with teachers,” says Vilson, “and the bad tone that’s being sent throughout the country.”

“I’m sorry,” Davis told the New York Times, “I just know if you don’t have a strong advocate for a child, they’re not going to make it.”

The New York Times reported that the trigger law portrayed in Won’t Back Down differs from its real life counterparts in a key respect: Unlike standard parent triggers laws which require just a majority of parents’ signatures to trigger a turnaround, the law in the movie requires support from a majority of a school’s teachers as well. Asked why, Weil told In These Times, “It was important that the law used be fictional because the film is not based on a specific actual law,” but instead “draws on many situations throughout the country.”

Obviously, we didn’t actually respond to each other, but I might as well have. I anticipated that some of the interviews regarding the two-pronged events of the movie Won’t Back Down and the Teachers Rock! concert sponsored by Walmart will have the same soundbites about helping kids and giving parents advocacy.

The crux of my argument against Won’t Back Down specifically is this: we should recognize that this movie will have a similar effect to what Waiting for Superman had on the general zeitgeist. While not very popular, WfSset a precedent for how many times a non-educator could ask a teacher (namely me) about what really happens under the presumption that the movie has more than an ounce of truth to it.

It had very little, but people bought it anyways, because the movie told them so.

I do get it, though. Parents across the country are in fact frustrated. So are many others. Many public schools aren’t working for kids, and the bureaucracy can frustrate even the most patient parent. It often feels like they get the run-around, and when they do protest, they’re often told about how poorly their child performs and that nothing can be done no matter what they say. Too often, even my colleagues fail to see that side, the side where we as educators have to be complicit in the crap when we rather not be.

Let’s work together.

Instead of supporting “parent trigger,” which replaces one school for another and turns the public school into a non-unionized charter school, let’s assure that children get experienced, high-quality educators who won’t leave after 2-3 years. Let’s have answers, and, if not, let’s work towards creating them. Let’s give the idea of a “community school” one more look over, and see how schools often provide a neighborhood spirit where poverty can’t.

Let’s be the solution.

How do we suppose students and parents get their own agency from a company that doesn’t believe in workers’ rights or fair business practices? Come on now. I’m not backing down from this vision.

Guess who’s not backing down?

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Check out the comments from outraged parents on the Facebook Page for the Won’t Back Down movie! Lots of parents are reading and sharing PAA’s Fact sheet, “Beyond the parent trigger hype: just the facts.”

Go here and “like” Facebook page “Boycott of Movie Won’t Back Down.”

Dear Teachers Rock performer:

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

As active parents, we thank you for your support for our public school teachers. We support them, too.

But you need to know that the agenda behind the “Teachers Rock” concert and the “Won’t Back Down” movie this concert promotes does not support teachers or our democratic public school system.

The WBD movie promotes a parent trigger law created by charter school operators and promoted by ALEC, which wrote the Stand Your Ground law. The real aim is to privatize public schools and get rid of union teachers.

The WBD movie is produced by the same company that produced the controversial documentary “Waiting for Superman,” which put teachers in a very bad light and presented false and misleading information about charter schools, which overall have not had any better track record in the US than regular schools.

We know that you, like the actors in the movie, aren’t aware that you are being used to promote school privatization in the guise of parent empowerment. We can’t afford a big show or Hollywood movie, but we do hope that you will at least listen to us and reconsider your participation in this event.

Thank you.

Parents United for Responsible Education (Chicago)

Dear Meryl

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Ms. Meryl Streep

c/o Leslee Dart

Dart Group

sent by facsimile

212 277 7550


If you really appreciate teachers, please pull out of

phony “Teachers Rock” event promoting

the themes of the “Won’t Back Down” movie:

public school privatization and wholesale teacher firing


Dear Ms Streep:

I am writing to ask you to reconsider your participation in the “Teachers Rock” event next week. As parents, we are concerned that this event is part of a larger propaganda campaign to force privatization on public schools. The movie, “Won’t Back Down,” is just the latest and most intensive move in this effort.

While we have been unable to view the entire movie, we have seen the trailer and read promotional stories that are already being published. We also know that the producer, Walden Media and Philip Anschutz, were behind the “Waiting for Superman” documentary whose one-sided and often misleading content created a great deal of controversy among those of us who strongly support our nation’s teachers. Even Roger Ebert eventually rethought his positive “Superman” review.

“Won’t Back Down” is poised to be equally if not more controversial because it claims to be “based on real events” about the “parent trigger law” which allows parents to sign petitions to close their school and turn it into a charter school.

As an active and informed parent, I know that parent empowerment is not the real agenda behind this so-called parent trigger law. It was in fact written by the head of a charter management company which initiated the first parent trigger campaign. The law was taken up by ALEC and has been pushed in a number of other states with generous financial backing of the Walton Foundation (which is sponsoring “Teacher Rocks”) and other corporate school reform funders.

Our small Chicago organization and a larger network with which we are affiliated, Parents Across America, are working to get out the truth about “Won’t Back Down.” We can’t afford to put on a big show or produce a Hollywood movie to make our voices heard, but we do hope you will listen to us. You can find more information about this issue on our web sites, www.pureparents,org and

Thank you so much for your attention.

Best wishes,


Julie Woestehoff

Executive Director


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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.