Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Truth Behind Won't Back Down

By Julie Cavanagh, Special Education Teacher in Red Hook, Brooklyn

Huffington Post
September 26, 2012

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/julie-cavanagh/wont-back-down_b_1906434.html 


This week a film partially funded by Walden Media,
which is owned by entrepreneur and conservative Philip
Anschutz, will be released in theaters. The film, Won't
Back Down, is a work of fiction but claims to be based
on real life events and tells the story of a teacher
and a parent in a 'failing' school who join forces to
'save their school.' Walden Media also funded Waiting
for Superman, which was billed as a documentary on
education and chronicled the stories of several
families navigating the educational landscape
intermixed with commentary from journalists,
economists, philanthropists, and business folks who
surmised the troubles of public education today. These
two films differ in style, but their substance is
aligned and their conclusion is the same: teacher
unions are the obstacle to student achievement.

When Waiting for Superman was released, a group of
parents and teachers, of which I was a part, responded
to that film with our own documentary, The Inconvenient
Truth Behind Waiting for Superman. We highlighted the
myths we believed were propagated in that film, shining
a light on the corporate education reform movement, and
called on parents, educators, young people and
community members to demand real reform. Since then,
the national conversation regarding education reform
has gained more prominence. When we were making our
film, the idea that there were forces attempting to
privatize our public education system and that they
aimed to use teacher unions as a scapegoat while citing
poverty as an excuse rather than an important factor we
as a society must address, was controversial. Today it
is fair to say this conversation is accepted on
national television.

Even though the national consciousness has been raised
regarding issues related to education and folks are
more engaged and informed than ever before, the efforts
to misinform, malign, and muddy the truth remain. Won't
Back Down takes its viewers on an emotional roller
coaster ride and clearly pushes the perspective that
teachers and their unions prevent progress. While I
have my own views about an alternate vision for teacher
unions, I am a proud union member, and know that
teacher unions, regardless of their flaws, are
committed to progress and student achievement; I also
know they are all that stands in the way of the sale of
our public education system to the highest bidder and
that is precisely why they are being attacked.

In our film, we featured several parents and teachers
who actually took a stand against the corporate reform
movement. Whether it was parents and teachers who
joined together to stop a charter school from being
forced into their building against the will of the
community, or to fight budget cuts that were ravaging
their school, to beg the powers that be to stop the
closing of a beloved neighborhood school that was long
under-resourced and undermined, or begging for policy
makers to prevent ballooning class sizes or stop
wasting precious funds on high stakes testing when they
could be diverted to culturally relevant and rich
curriculum; they all shared real, true, authentic
stories about how they, together, would not back down.
There are thousands of real won't-back-down stories out
there (I have shared my school community's here:
http://nycpublicschoolparents.blogspot.com/2012/09/we-fought-invasion-of-ps-15-real-life.html
and you can too), not based on actual events, but are actual
events. Most of them involve fighting the very forces
folks like Philip Anschutz fund.

There is at least one thing however that Won't Back
Down gets right; it does take parents and teachers and
young people working together to make our schools
great. Unions are not obstacles in this and in fact are
positioned to lead the collaboration. One must only
look to Chicago to see a real won't-back-down story
where the cast of characters include not lazy unionized
teachers, but educators who together with parents,
young people and community members are fighting for the
schools they deserve.

I hope the folks who choose to see Won't Back Down
return to their communities energized with the spirit
of collaboration, not demonization, and together fight
for real reforms for our schools.

Follow Julie Cavanagh on Twitter:
www.twitter.com/juliecavanagh15

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