The “teacher movie” genre is full of inspiring stories, fictional and non-fictional designed to move the audience. Everyone has a favorite. Mine are Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Dead Poet’s Society, and Mona Lisa Smile. Recently released, Won’t Back Down is another movie in this genre, but this time the emphasis is aimed at motivating parents.
With education reform being an extremely hot button issue these days, this movie may just have been released into the “perfect storm”. There is a lot brewing in the realm of education between it being an election year, teacher strikes, increased mayoral control over schools, and the growing charter and privatization push. Things are very political.
Won’t Back Down is caught up in some controversy as to its underlying intent and its film producers and backers. (I should point out it does have a website with many tools for its promotion and motivating parent involvement unlike the teacher movies mentioned above.)
What's the Storyline of Won't Back Down?
According to my friend Felisa, “the movie portrays Maggie Gyllenhaal, the mother of a dyslexic third grade student who is struggling in school. She is trying to ensure her child has access to a quality education. No matter how much she sought help for her daughter, she found no support available to her within the school system. Viola Davis portrays a teacher in a school where they seem to have lost their passion and are very discouraged. Together, these two mothers are determined to transform their failing school. Won’t Back Down sheds light on the issues that many families, students, and teachers are facing, and inspires us to come together as a community to benefit everyone.”
I have not seen it yet, but intend to very soon. Three of my friends had the unique opportunity to attend the premiere of Won’t Back Down, walk the red carpet, and mingle with the stars. All three are extraordinary parent advocates and Parenting Magazine Mom Congress representatives. They didn’t let a little controversy hold them back from an amazing time.
As New York’s 2012 delegate to Mom Congress, I was able to attend a panel discussion with the cast of the newly released, controversial movie Won't Back Down. NBC Education Nation hosted the panel discussion led by Alex Wagner (political analyst on MSNBC). The bonus to this invite was that I was also invited to attend the New York Red Carpet Premiere of the movie at the renowned Ziegfeld Theatre. Of course I jumped at the chance! Who would say no to mingling with famous actors and actresses? Besides, the education advocate in me really wanted to hear what everyone had to say to Alex Wagner.
I caught a train to the city, strolled over to the New York Public Library and got my pass to the panel discussion. The first speakers introduced were the stars of the movie: Rosie Perez, Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal and the director Daniel Barnz. Rosie Perez spoke of the Urban Arts Partnership, which helps underprivileged children. She is their Artistic Board Chair. She relayed a personal story of her own education and how most of her teachers didn't believe in her, because she was a Latino with a speech impediment. One teacher saw beyond that and helped her find confidence and eventually her way to stardom. Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal talked briefly about their roles in the movie. The director Daniel Barnz said this is not intended to be an anti-union movie. Recently the use of the Parent Trigger law has caused some controversy in California.
When I got to the Ziegfeld Theatre, there were a lot of police cars and sirens. Initially I thought there had been an accident or fire, instead it was a crowd holding signs and shouting "Won't Back Down, Get Out of Town". "Mmm" I thought, "I hope they don't throw stones or anything when they see me going to the will call window." They didn't! I met up with two of my amazing Mom Congress friends and together we went to the movie.
While the movie does address the fact that there are issues within the United States school system that are in dire need of attention, it does offer hope. I know that if my child was in a class with a teacher who didn't care about his or her students, I would most certainly do everything in my power to rectify the situation.
I am very fortunate to live in a school district where we have caring and conscientious teachers, staff and administration, who are willing to listen to and work with parents. We can't sit back and ignore the fact that there are schools in this country that are failing. The movie sends a clear message that parents and teachers need to join forces and work for the improvement of our children's educations.
When I first started volunteering to advocate for education and health issues, I never imagined it would take me to places like New York City. I had the chance to attend the premiere of the movie Won’t Back Down. I didn’t realize how amazing my luck was until my friend Gwen told me that this was a real red carpet event and that the stars of the film were going to be there! I exclaimed, “But I don’t have anything fancy to wear”.
My red carpet experience was amazing from the moment I arrived. Gwen Samuel, Julie Bergin and I were the first to arrive. The line became long and you could hear the excitement from everyone already there. It finally hit me that this was a premiere event and that I was part of a select group to preview this movie. We were escorted in and I was given an invitation to a reception following the movie premiere. Wow! We got inside, got our popcorn and drinks, and found a good seat. It was exciting to see the producer, movie stars, and other important people in education arriving. Before the movie started the producer of the movie gave an introduction.
I found it very refreshing to be able to talk about something that is happening in some school’s communities. This movie addresses issues that are relevant to communities throughout our country. I believe this film will provoke and inspire parents and teachers to think, talk, and find solutions. Such dialog is needed to make sure our students are getting the best education possible - and that we are preparing our students to be college-ready.
The bottom line: this movie is not about a battle between parents and teachers. I can tell you by my experience here in the state of Oklahoma, which ranks 48th in teacher’s salaries that teachers choose to teach because of their love for the children - NOT for the money. On the other hand, parents want to be part of the process and want the best education for their children. They want to be listened to and they want to be treated with respect. Remember, you don’t need to have a teaching degree to be educated. No parent wants to see their child left behind.
I would recommend this movie to all of our parents, teachers, future teachers and anyone who works with children. I promise that you will leave the theater feeling excited and with a desire to double your efforts to ensure a better education for our children.
Just like the mothers in the movie, I am an advocate for education who has worked tirelessly for many years to give a voice to the many parents that cannot express their opinions because of a lack of fluency in the English language. Many of them also lack formal education or are timid about getting involved. I try to be their voice. In my community we have more than 58 different languages and many of these minority parents have students who go to our English Language Learner program. I had made it my mission to ensure that these parents know that they are welcome in our schools, their voices are represented, and they are encouraged to participate in their child's education.
The reception was incredible, full of celebrities and great food. I was able to meet many important people in the field of education. I was able to take some pictures with the actors and had the opportunity to meet the producer as well as some of the people who inspired this movie.
As a parent, I fully understand that I am the first line of defense as it relates to my child’s overall well-being which includes, nurturing them and meeting their physical, emotional, and mental needs. Yet, traditional school agendas place parental and family engagement as a very low priority. This mentality has placed parents at the school front window “looking in” and hoping for a place at the educator’s and lawmaker’s decision making table--the very table that will determine the educational fate of their children. This disheartening lack of parent and family engagement support leaves many parents feeling “hopeless” about the ability of some of America’s low performing schools to meet the educational needs of their children, especially children of color and the working poor. That is why I became elated and extremely hopeful about the possible transformation of low performing and unsafe schools after I watched the inspirational movie Won’t Back Down…twice!
The movie displayed ongoing communication between teachers and community. It made the educational system “take note” of the individual educational needs of children versus the one size fits all children system. After watching the movie I was convinced it was time for the modern civil rights movement- demanding the end of separate and unequal school systems. It became very clear to me that parents and guardians of children need to take the lead within education reform efforts because their only “special interest” is the safety and overall well-being of children, nothing more and nothing less.
Do I think the film will cause parents and guardians to storm school boards and demand a school takeover? While I cannot speak to how far a parent will go to protect their children, I do know the movie will inspire parents to ask more questions about the educational policy and procedures that govern their child’s educational experience and they will demand that their child have access to safe, appropriate, and high quality educational opportunities. For the record, the vast majority of parents are not disgruntled or difficult; they are just desperate for their child to be safe and effectively educated!
For more information, visit “Parents For Won’t Back Down” Movie at: www.parentsforwontbackdown.com Follow us on twitter: @parents4WBD
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Julie Bergin is the 2012 New York Delegate to Mom Congress. Active in the PTA, she is also a member of the school district's Communications Committee. Julie was selected as New York's 14th Assembly District's 2012 Woman of Distinction, for her community service and commitment to making it a great place to live for the community's children.
Felisa Hilbert is a United Nation Foundation Shot@life Champion, an Oklahoma PTA Membership Vice president, and the founder of international cultures for Education (ICE) Community PTA. She is the 2011 Oklahoma Mom Congress Delegate and a 2011 White House Champion of Change honoree. She is a community organizer, activist and education advocate with a heart for helping people.
Gwen Samuel is the founder of three volunteer, community-based organizations -the Connecticut's Parents Union, the State of Black Connecticut Alliance, and the Meriden Kids Walk Safe Coalition. A frequent speaker and presenter, she advocates for the educational rights of all children from birth through college graduation and serves as the Regional Director (Eastern) of the National Family Engagement Alliance. She is the 2010 Connecticut Delegate to Mom Congress.
Any blog, movie, magazine or book that promotes discussion and analysis for the potential improvement of education is valuable to me. What is your favorite "teacher genre" movie? Are you going to see Won't Back Down? Do you have your own story to share about advocating for your child or their school? Tweet, share or comment please! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Tags: Alex Wagner, Artistic Board Chair, Daniel Barnz, Dead Poet's Society, family engagement, Lean on Me, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mom Congress, Mona Lisa Smile, Mr.Holland's Opus, MSNBC, NBC News Education Nation, New York, New York Public Library, Parent Trigger law, Parenting Magazine, red carpet, Rosie Perez, School Zone, Stand and Deliver, teacher movie genre, Urban Arts Partnership, Viola Davis, Won't Back Down, Ziegfeld Theater