This week’s feel-good movie “Won’t Back Down” is the “inspired by a true story” saga of a mother and a teacher who worked together to take over a failing school in Pennsylvania. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis star as the women who got the support of the other parents and teachers despite the opposition of the teachers union. The movie has created a lot of controversy on all sides for its portrayal of the teachers union as interested only in job security, hours and pay for teachers and not what is best for their students and willing to resort to threats, bribery, and character assassination to maintain their power. A quote often attributed to real-life teachers union president Albert Shanker (“When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”) is used in the movie even though there is no record of his having said it. It is documented, however, that he said, “It is as much the duty of the union to preserve public education as it is to negotiate a good contract.” (Fans of the Woody Allen movie “Sleeper” may remember that there is a joke about Shanker getting a bomb.)
The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch is very critical of the film because they say it is funded by businesses with a hidden agenda — to get parents to use “trigger laws” to get rid of the unions and administrations at under-performing schools so that private businesses can take over and make a profit. Families who view the film should find out how “trigger laws” work in their own community and what standards are being applied in their own school systems for evaluating proposals to improve the students’ experience and results.