Homework Assignment: "Won't Back Down"
Won't Back Down is a message movie and message movies usually don't play well. That's a shame in this case because Won't Back Down humanizes a growing national awareness that some teachers unions are standing in the way of improved education. This reality now persuades enough liberals that a group called Democrats for Education Reform has become a powerful ally of candidates in both parties who are willing to buck the teachers unions in supporting school choice.
In recent decades the teachers unions, drawing on the mandatory funding of members, have exerted more clout in state races than any other lobby and can defeat any reforms from any source. So it is notably that at last some wealthy supporters of school reform are prepared to come to the obvious conclusion: the only way to defeat the union-backed candidates--the ones who talk about reform, but never deliver it--is to match or exceed the campaign contributions of the unions, regardless of the party affiliation of the real reform candidates. Furthermore, the reform groups have to be single-interest, just as the teachers unions are.
Usually the unions still win. in addition to direct campaign funds they can provide campaign workers to get out the vote. That's why even the school reform forces in Chicago, with the leadership of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, had to compromise in the recent strike. That's why the unions have been successful in preventing school choice in Washington, DC, dashing the hopes of poor black families there--the supposed rock bed of the Democratic base. But reform is succeeding in certain California locals and other places, and the willingness of pro-reform liberals to run candidates in Democratic primaries and to back pro-reform Republicans in final elections is a large part of the reason.
Won't Back Down, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, tells a human interest story set in this public policy issue. The story is credible and while the villain is the teachers union that fights to prevent a failing elementary school from being turned over to a group of teachers and parents who want to start a charter school, the characterization of the union is not the unfair stereotype that liberal critics charge. Union leaders do get to make their case, it's just that the case is not about the well-being of kids but the will-being of the teachers, or rather the union.