Warning: Spoiler Alert
As I noted on Twitter & Facebook, I wanted to step into the Won’t Back Down advance screening with as much of an open mind as possible. I sat right in the 2nd row, notebook in hand, ready to jot down important notes from the movie.
I didn’t like the movie for obvious reasons. But, if I were to judge this as someone just watching the movie, I don’t know. I guess if you wanted a movie to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, this would be perfect for it. There was nothing really unexpected in the movie, you kind of knew that they were going to get their new school even with all the challenges. It was too much of a “they-lived-happily-ever-after,” no grasp on reality product. Of course, I like fiction movies, but when it’s dealing with a hot and controversial topic like our education system, I’m just not a fan. Again, this goes along with my personal issue with power and privilege, who has the ability to control and shift opinions? Could you imagine if all of us who support public schools had the money to make a Hollywood movie?
And if they wanted to convince more people that our school systems are failing, that we need to start firing more teachers, and that we should be against our current school system, I think this movie is definitely capable of doing that. Also, there was a lot of cheering and applause in the movie theater when the Department of Education approved the turn-around school.
Here are a few points:
There was some type of effort to not be so obviously biased
- Teacher stated to the parent, “You have no idea what it’s like to be a teacher.”
- Showed the struggles teachers face when they teach in low-income schools.
- Two teachers snapped rubber bands on their wrists at school as a method of stress-relief
- Another teacher (the parent’s “love interest” throughout the movie\TFA member), suggested, “Maybe we look into this a little more, investigate, know what we’re getting ourselves into.” Parent responded, “I don’t have time to read about [other factors I didn't get a chance to write down], and poverty. Yea, being poor sucks…”
- This same teacher said he didn’t like the union-bashing
- Showed how reluctant Department of Education is to listen to parents\teachers
- Teachers not supporting idea at first because they were worried they wouldn’t get rehired in new turn-around school
Definitely a tear-jerker. Yep, I cried (then again, I cried watching Harry Potter). Really didn’t want to, but man. When the son told his mom told his young son that she got in a car accident when he was a baby while drunk driving and forgot to strap him in the car seat, and he flew out the window, and that may be the reason teachers consider him “slow,” I knew tears were comin’. He told her, “It’s ok…you can lay down next to me if you want,” and then he kissed her on the forehead–I lost it! Take note though, this part of the movie had nothing to do with education\schools. It was the relationship between the mom and the son. With that being said, it was a slightly clever sequence of events there. Right after that scene, it was no surprise the scene of parents rallying for school choice came up next.
The parent fighting for a new school could serve as an inspiration for other parents. She literally, did not back down. She also had dyslexia, and her daughter called her stupid at one point. I can definitely see how people would see her as admirable. All she wanted to do was give her child a better education and life than what she had. She was a young mom who had to work two jobs. She refused the bribe from the second in charge of the union. This bribe would have benefited her child. She refused because she wanted to make sure other children wouldn’t be left behind. She worked at a bar at night, she was fun and lovable, could possibly be hard not to like her. But I don’t know how others felt. I was annoyed by her character because she chose to be ignorant, and then influence others to do the same.
At some points I forgot I was watching a movie on education. The teacher falling for the parent within the 2-3 days of knowing each other, kissy-love-seduction stuff was a little too much\unnecessary. (I got a weird feeling the parent was seducing the TFA teacher to be on her side…but maybe I’m wrong…)
Made TFA teacher look great, both physically (his nickname was “Sexy Tex”) and as a character.
- His class was up-beat and dancing around. The students in a different teacher’s classroom at the beginning were all bored, disengaged, etc.
- He wasn’t initially for the “turn-around” idea, he just said “I just want to teach.”
- Stood up for the union at first, “We won’t be guaranteed a contract at this new school”
- Didn’t want to be a part of the “union-bashing”
- He pushed pack against the idea of turn-around school even though the parent fighting for it was his “love-interest”
Unions looked irrational and selfish
- When parent found flyer made by someone from union, “How many lies can they squeeze into this thing?”
- At the end of the movie, after they won their new school, the second in charge of the union ended up quitting and became a teacher instead.
-When the President of the the teacher’s union was speaking to office, he emphasized they had to stop the turn-around school to “protect the teachers.” There was so much emphasis on, “This is for the teachers.” As if teachers really only cared about themselves…
- At the end, it is the parent who speaks up and says, we’re doing this for the kids! Again, they show no teachers (except for the 2 teachers who are on the turn-around school side) making the effort to say they are fighting for their students.
There were a couple contradictions One that sticks out in my mind is when the TFA teacher said, “I just want to teach.” But the parent said, “But what about the other kids?” She brought up the point that it’s great that his students are lucky to have him. Yet she argues that not all students get to have him as a teacher and that’s not fair. In my notes I wrote in all capital letters, “Isn’t that just like the school you’re asking for?” If I was that TFA teacher, I would have asked, “What about the students in our city who won’t be able to get into this new school?” Also, Michelle Rhee of StudentsFirst (who supports this movie), isn’t necessarily your biggest advocate for valuing creativity in the classrooms. Ironically, that’s what all the “best teachers” in this movie were doing (dancing, singing, etc.)
I just had a serious issue with the parent refusing to do thorough research about what she was supporting. I know this movie is fiction, and it’s supposed to just glorify and send out a message, but I can’t agree with the message they are sending. I wish that the parents who are going to watch this movie would be more critical and skeptical. Is it really a good sign if 53 parents fully support an idea in 1 day from just one flyer? Is it really a good idea that the parent who is leading this whole new turn-around school is so close-minded, and refusing to look at any of the other important factors? Shouldn’t we encourage people to critically think about what they are supporting, not just agree to an idea because one parent and one flyer makes it sounds good?
For another review of Won’t Back Down, please see Gary Rubinstein’s post.
In addition to the movie screening, B4K provided a panel at the event. It was definitely an intense one. A lot of hostility, frustration, and anger:
Moderator: Tom Moran, The Star-Ledger
- Junius Williams, Esq., Director, The Abbott Leadership Institute
- Wilhelmina Holder, Director, The Newark Secondary Parents Council
- Eric Stevenson, Executive Director, iReform
- Derrell Bradford, Executive Director, B4K
Few important points\quotes from the panel and audience:
- “Everyone is fighting against everyone. We are in need of quality schools! Where do we go to learn information? I have yet to find an organization that gives me a choice. Give me a list that tells me what Charters do, what Public Schools are doing. I’m about to home-school my child because of all this mess!” -Parent of 1 year old in audience
- “If parents are lining up outside of Charters when they open to enroll their kids, doesn’t that mean that the community wanted it?” -Tom Moran, The Star-Ledger
- “Department of Education goes after good teachers and good principals. They find ways to fire you.” and “Unions are VERY necessary. Good teachers get caught in agenda where principals are forced to harass teachers.” -Teacher\Union Member in Audience
- “Are there any union members on the panel? No? I’d like to add one from the audience to join in the discussion.” -Junius
- “Parents just want one thing. I don’t care about politics, we all want the same thing. We have to stop rhetoric to get things done.” – Parent in audience
- “It are the parents will have the best interest for their children.” – Eric Stevenson
- “We don’t care if it’s public or charter schools, we just want a school that is good for our kids.” – Parent in audience
- “This discussion isn’t over, because we know Tom Moran won’t publish this story tomorrow.” -Wilhelmia
- “This movie is another revolution.” – Derrell Bradford
- “We’ve been asleep. We’ve allowed this to happen.” – Teacher\Union Member in Audience
- “We need to think, what do we want? Not what people tell us to want.” – Junius Williams
- Parent in audience: “I feel teachers are not respected.”
Another Parent in Audience:“It’s a 2 way street. You talk to us like we’re not educated.”
Here are a few couple other quotes made from the panelists if interested:
Eric Stevenson, Executive Director, iReform
- Schools aren’t performing how we hope they would be
- Parents = Principal advocates
- The difference between urban &suburban is notion of constraints. We cannot talk about education without talking about constraint. System has to make it easier for parents.
- “It are the parents will have the best interest for their children.”
Junius Williams, Esq., Director, The Abbott Leadership Institute
- He asked if anyone on the panel was a part of the union. There wasn’t, so he requested that someone for the audience who is in the union come be a panelist and be a part of the discussion.
- States there is “no single bad guy,” and “no single good guy.”
- “Good movie, but oversimplified.”
- “What’s the reality?”
- “I admire parent and teacher organized parents and teachers, I’ve been that person. I’ve lived that, walking the stairs and knocking on doors. But we could change the school without closing it. If I got that amount of parents and teachers, again, we could change school without closing it!”
- “The only difference between suburban and urban schools is organized parents.” Audience starts to say, “What?”
- Movie shows that unions are in control but that’s not true
- Parents can’t believe in superman. Who is going to control those schools? What’s going to happen after you close your school?
- Urban schools don’t have equal access to knowledge, there’s a lot of propaganda leveled at urban schools
- Urban schools are often only presented 1 choice, and that’s privatization
Wilhelmina Holder, Director, The Newark Secondary Parents Council
- Parent, Grandparent
- “Felt like I was watching superman again–we all want children to win.”
- “It’s not a reality, they’re just actors. That’s not real. What’s the reality?”
- She stated how we should be teaching that just handing power to others to take control is not the answer.
- “This discussion isn’t over, because we know Tom Moran won’t publish this story tomorrow.”
- “Myself and other parents, students, and teachers extracted bad teachers. They were targeted, if parents know their rights they can do it too.”
- “It’s not charter vs. traditional. We want worldwide quality education, look at Finland and Singapore. They take one standardized test a year. They look at us like a joke, all these standardized tests.”
- Activism starts with your children and neighborhood. Suburban parents have time to research but a lot of urban parents don’t, constraints.
Union Teacher from Audience
- Moved to Newark to teach because she felt like it wasn’t as broken as it was in the Bronx
- Stated how she worked with teachers she knew that if her child would have, she would want them fired. BUT, she stated, “Department of Education goes after good teachers and good principals. They find ways to fire you.” and “Unions are VERY necessary. Good teachers get caught in agenda where principals are forced to harass teachers.”
- Speaking in regards to the movie, “We don’t know the curriculum in the school. We’re they forced to throw away their textbooks? Because that happens.”
Derrell Bradford, Executive Director, B4K
- Thanks everyone in theater
- Emphasized the message of movie, “HOPE.” Teacher and parents are hope.
- Emphasized idea that, although that it is fiction, “Happy we can see a vision.”
- Called this movie “another revolution”
- Said he didn’t believe that agitation will change schools
Tom Moran, The Star-Ledger
- Liked what last Board of Education member about the decision to vote yes even though he didn’t know if it was going to work
- Brought up his discussion with Arne Duncan. When asking about Race To The Top and asking how does he know it’s going to work. Duncan said, “We don’t, we haven’t transformed schools.”
- Thought movie was a good vision
This was originally posted at Teacher Under Construction