Won’t Back Down… Simple, Anti-Union Propaganda

https://i1.wp.com/s3.amazonaws.com/wbdtools/downloads/stills/full/WBD-040.jpgTuesday night, my husband and I did something we haven’t done in a long time…. went to a movie!  I was offered the opportunity to attend a movie preview, and I couldn’t refuse.

Movie:  Won’t Back Down

Starring:  Maggie Gyllenhaall and Viola Davis

Opening:  September 28, 2012

The Story:

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis play two determined mothers, one a teacher, who will stop at nothing to transform their children’s failing inner city school.  They risk everything to make a difference in the education and future of their children.

My Review:

In many ways Won’t Back Down is an inspirational movie.  How can you not care about parents fighting to receive a quality education for their children.  We all want the best for our children, and it pains us to see them struggling in school.  What makes the situation in this movie even more painful is that the struggles are the result of a bad teacher.  This teacher should NOT be teaching children… instead of spending her time helping the kids, she is shopping on the internet.  She doesn’t stop fights that occur in the classroom.  She ridicules and humiliates the children who are struggling.  She refuses to help those children who are falling behind in any way.  She is the perfect caricature of the “bad teacher”.  The bigger evil, as portrayed in the movie, is the system that protects this teacher from losing her job… the teachers union.

That’s where I feel this movie falls apart.  Everything is simplified, made black and white.  The evil of the bad teacher is extreme.  The union employees (except for one) are portrayed as being anti-child.  The good is the parent, in this case Maggie Gyllenhaall’s character, Jamie Fitzpatrick, a poor, uneducated, overworked, feisty mom who will do anything to help her child receive a quality education.  She is the spark that changes the opinions of others and inspires parents and good teachers to care about their plight and fight the system.  But the movie relies on the audience falling in love with her goodness, on her love for her child, as well as the love between the mom/teacher portrayed by Viola Davis and her son.  The movie plays with the emotions of the audience.  Without the emotion, the audience would see the true intent of this movie.  It has an agenda.

I have to address the perceived all-powerful evil in the movie… the teachers union.  Now, I must disclose at this point that my husband is an elementary school teacher in the public school system.  He’s a good one, by the way… one of those teachers who is not only exceptional at providing a quality education but also one who students like and continue to come back to visit even after they are in high school and college.  My views may be biased, but I feel they must be heard.

I have trouble with the movie because it attacks teachers and the union set up to speak for them.  Teachers are educated people who could be employed elsewhere for a higher income, who have chosen to devote their career to educating children.  The vast majority of teachers chose the career because they like children, value education, and are “helping” people.  They have become teachers, even though incomes are low and the profession is looked down upon in our society.  And, as they work with the public, they are an easy scapegoat.  If a child is not succeeding in school, for whatever reason, it’s easy for a parent to point the finger at the teacher.  People love to put blame somewhere else instead of upon themselves.  And it’s so, so easy to say it’s all because of the “evil” teacher.  Because it is the general public who is being educated in our public schools, teachers see parents and children from all walks of life.  They see parents with a variety of issues that effect a child’s ability to learn…  parents going through divorce, families dealing with unemployment, a parent with mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction,  parents who either don’t understand how or who don’t care to provide a home that’s conducive to learning (TV off, don’t over-schedule with extracurricular activities, read with their children daily, provide a healthy diet, ensure children get enough sleep, etc.).  A teacher can be used as a tool by these parents to say, “it’s not me or my child… it’s the teacher’s fault that my child is falling behind.”    Even when the teacher and the school system  may be doing everything in their power to try to inspire and provide extra resources to help this child succeed, it can be extremely difficult to overcome a home environment that’s undermining their work.  The teacher’s union is in place to protect these good teachers from situations like this.  What to do with the truly bad teachers, the ones proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be unfit for the job?  I say change the system so they can be fired, but allow the union to do it’s job… protect good teachers and fight for fair pay.  Don’t even get me started on the unfairness of what teachers are paid in this country, especially in the inner-city where high quality teachers are needed the most.

OK, now I’ll step off my soapbox and get back to the movie.  The movie makes a big deal about how the union prevents teachers from helping students after school, so I have to address this.  Where did this information come from?  Of course teachers are allowed to stay after school to help a student who needs additional help.  What is not allowed is for a parent to pay the teacher to help their child after school hours.  Now the true question is… should teachers be expected to stay after school and work additional hours without extra pay to help students with extra needs?  Hm… free one-on-one tutoring.  Wouldn’t all parents want this?  And how would they choose which of the children to give this special attention to?  It kind of smells like favoritism to me.  Wouldn’t ALL children benefit from a little extra time after school with their teacher?  Teachers are already expected to work several hours outside of school hours each day to grade papers, record grades, create lesson plans, conference with parents, and respond to e-mails from parents.  The work day for a teacher does not end at 3:00, as many believe.  Some teachers choose to stay at their desk to complete these extra responsibilities of their job before heading home while others choose to do it at home.  Either way, the work must be done.  Teachers, like most people, at the end of their work day are ready to go home and see their own families and attend to their own private lives.  Just be aware that if you decide to watch this movie, it’s using false information to get to your emotions.

My take-away about this movie?  It feels like thinly veiled propaganda for the anti-teacher / anti-union movement.  Teachers are NOT the enemy.  Teachers and their union are NOT anti-child. Yes, the educational system is broken.  It needs to be fixed.  But let’s all work together to figure out the real problem and fix it instead of searching for an easy scapegoat.  Let’s start with standardized testing… it’s not working.    It’s gotta go.  Let’s discuss the low-pay for teachers.  If you want quality, energized teachers in the inner city, pay them!  Let’s talk about taxes.  Why is education always one of the first things to be cut?  Let’s talk about educating parents.  When parents place a value on education, embrace it themselves, and begin to work together as a team with their children’s teachers, their children will, too.  As a nation, we have to begin to put our money towards our future, and our future is our children.  When we as a society begin to value education, then maybe we’ll begin to get somewhere.  Educational reform is an extremely complex topic.  This movie doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

Do you enjoy movies that make you cry?  This is a great movie for that.  It’ll pull at your heart strings.  Want to get fired up and fight for better education?  This movie will do that, too.  Just put that energy to use where it’s needed.  The enemy is not the teachers union.  The enemy is not the teacher.  I can only hope viewers will see through the propaganda.

I’m sure I’ve hit a nerve with some of my readers.  That’s not my intention, and I apologize if I did.  I’m simply expressing my personal response to the movie and the issues it brought up.

FTC DISCLOSURE REQUIREMENT A Nature Mom aims to provide unbiased editorials. However, I wish to disclose that from time to time I may receive free products or other compensation from companies for blogger reviews.


33 thoughts on “Won’t Back Down… Simple, Anti-Union Propaganda

  1. From Britain, this article about that film:

    Anti-union film flops

    A new record for the US’s biggest ever film flop has been set this week—by a star-studded polemic against teaching unions.

    Won’t Back Down stars Maggie Gyllenhall as a mother who takes on the teachers to set up a “charter school”. These are the US equivalent of the Tories’ free schools. The film made just £1.6 million in its opening weekend.

    http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=29740

  2. Most teachers care and the system is broken but it takes a village to raise a child and that means parents first, then teachers and then the community to provide the extras that supplement a childs education outside of the classroom. Of course, that’s in a perfect world but it could happen!

  3. Right on! I had a sense it had this sort of agenda just from the trailer/commercials. It does get old, all the attacks on teachers. Kudos to your husband–I’m an underpaid part-time college instructor myself, and grateful for anything my union manages to advocate on my behalf while I’m busy teaching. It’s not good money, but it is good karma.

    • You teachers aren’t the villains, but you’re such easy scapegoats. I have to say I have a business background (an MBA), and I completely understand and support the necessity of unions in this country. Keep building that karma!

  4. So glad you reviewed this. I am a public school parent (also a union member) and what I’ve read about this film so far depresses me – not just because it is propaganda, but because it looks like effective propaganda. I’m glad that some public school parents are speaking out about the content. I like your gentle approach.

    • Thank you. Yes, it’s frightening that a movie like this could actually sway public opinion. Unfortunately, if it succeeds, I’m afraid these inner city schools will actually lose teachers of quality, resulting is an even worse education for the children. It’s a sad possibility.

    • I actually don’t feel this was a good movie because of it’s propaganda nature (even funded by those in the anti-public school movement), but it’ll definitely pull at your emotions! The actresses did an exceptional job of drawing us into their drama. I just hope viewers will see they are trying to manipulate us. I’m so scared that this movie will actually inspire parents to take over their schools (the goal of the movie-makers)… and that things will actually end up WORSE for our children, not better. But for a film about the love between a mother and her child, the movie was great.

      • The whole issue of education reform of course is a huge and complex issue. I liked that your review was honest as to where the movie was tinged with propaganda and where it hit the right notes on a purely movie appreciation level.

        Oh that’s a tough one isn’t it when the message doesn’t actually deal with the real issues at hand but instead pick on a few bad apples and make the whole teaching profession bear the brunt of a deeper, more pressing need which covers social, family and personal values inherent or then corrupted in our society.

        Quick fixes for long term solutions might make for a passionate drama but hardly realistic when addressing the primary goals and foundations of education and learning centres today which clearly need much thought and serious evaluation and study.

        So glad to hear your views and obvious passion on such an important topic! I am so happy to hear from you today! Many warm greetings, Sharon

  5. Good review, obvious political bias in that film against public school teachers and unions. I was unsurprised when I read on Wikipedia that the individual behind the film is from the extreme religious-right.

  6. I enjoy hearing perspectives from others, and it’s nice to learn more about your views. It isn’t a good time for unions in general…and my own “full disclosure,” my husband has been a union chairman for more than 25 years. We have been talking about the current climate of hostility towards unions in general, and it’s very obvious that the Teacher’s Union is really being targeted right now. I’m sorry to hear about the agenda in this movie that I think could tell the story without that kind of blatant political message. You gave a great review. I’ll probably still see the movie because I love the cast. Not sure that I really want to cry, but we’ll see! 🙂 And it’s a wonderful thing to hear about such a great teacher. Thank your husband for me, please! Debra

    • This movie is truly nothing more than an attempt to get parents to take over their schools and make them into charters. There’s been no proof that these schools perform any better (and they may actually do worse) than the current system. I just hope that parents throughout the U.S. see through this blatant propaganda piece and see the truth. In the long run, I’m sure it will do a disservice to our children’s education, not improve it. I hope your husband hangs in there! When you see the movie, be prepared to see the union managers portrayed in an extremely unflattering way!

  7. great review! and by the way….I know your husband is a great teacher by just watching your son over these past few months and all the things you guys do to educate him….without even being in school!

  8. Teachers care! Sure there are bad ones but there wouldn’t be any if it weren’t for people who enjoy working with children no matter what the circumstances. Good luck to your husband! I retired after 33 years and would still be teaching if it weren’t for mean spirited people who worship money over children.

    • Yep, teachers care a lot about their students. I can’t imagine they’d get into teaching if they didn’t. That’s why I don’t understand why there is so much anger towards them these days.

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