Teachers' unions don't want you to see Won't Back Down, an underdog film that opened Sept. 28, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as a working-class mother in Pittsburgh who will do anything to give her young daughter a great education — even if it means battling the local teachers union and public school bureaucrats. Viola Davis plays an elementary school teacher who reluctantly teams with Gyllenhaal to take over a chronically substandard public school through a little-used mechanism called the “Fail Safe Law.” The two women then inspire parents and teachers to join their cause.
If the plot sounds familiar, you're right. Won't Back Down was inspired by the real-life Parent Trigger movement in California, which started in 2010 when working-class parents and a Los Angeles-based organizing group called Parent Revolution used the little-known Parent Trigger law to attempt to take over a failing school in Compton. Just like the characters in the movie, the parents and organizers in Compton faced charges of being anti-union for using a petition drive to turn a public school into a private one that didn't have to be unionized.
Media critics have charged that Won't Back Down is anti-union, too. As a result, the movie, in its own odd way, probably is considered by various left-leaning ideologues as one of the most dangerous films of 2012.
Maybe so, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, and Won't Back Down clearly goes out of its way to explain the pro-teachers union side of the issues.
But if pushing the notion that all kids, especially poor ones, should receive a good education is somehow subversive, then certain people need to take an unblinking look at the mirror.
In fact, Won't Back Down may have missed an opportunity to more fully explain how many public education school systems have burdensome rules and regulations that stack the deck against parents and kids, where instead it wastes precious screen time on the love lives of the two leading women.
Still, the underlying theme of the movie is not outrageous: When it comes to education, the needs of kids, not adults, should come first.