Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pittsburgh movie draws teachers union ire - Timesonline.com

PITTSBURGH -- The leader of a national teachers union is speaking out against a Pittsburgh-made movie.

"Won't Back Down," starring Oscar-nominated actresses Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, is a "false and misleading depiction of teachers and unions," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Weingarten saw an advance screening of the film, due out Sept. 28, and said it uses "the most blatant stereotypes and caricatures I have ever seen" with the intent to undermine confidence in public education and teachers unions.

In an interview streaming at Huffington Post, Gyllenhaal and Davis contend the movie's message is about parental empowerment.

"You can be the difference," Davis said.

Shot in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill, Mount Washington and Hill District neighborhoods, the film centers on two determined mothers , one a burned-out teacher, mobilizing an effort to transform a failing inner-city school.

"Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, they risk everything to make a difference in the education and future of their children," the film's website said.

Holly Hunter plays the adversarial teachers union representative.

The movie address the hot-button political topic of "parent trigger laws," under consideration in some states, and the center of a recent courtroom battle in Adelanto, Calif.

Parent trigger laws allow parents to seize control of failing schools, in effect turning them into charter schools that are still publicly funded and open to all. Such schools could hire and fire staff minus the constraints of union contracts.

Among groups pushing for trigger laws are the American Legislative Exchange Council, which receives funding from conservative oil billionaire Philip Anschutz, owner of Walden Media, the studio that produced "Won't Back Down" and other family targeted films.

Weingarten said moviegoers will be moved by the characters and story in "Won't Back Down" and conceded that the film successfully drives home the sense of urgency parents and educators feel for overcoming obstacles to provide the best possible education for their children.

"But instead of focusing on real parent empowerment and how communities can come together to help all children succeed, 'Won’t Back Down' offers parents a false choice â€" you’re either for students or for teachers, you can either live with a low-performing school or take dramatic, disruptive action to shut a school down," Weingarten said.

A teacher in the movie yells at students, refuses to let them use the restroom and puts them in a closet to discipline them. Davis' character asserts that union rules prohibit teachers from working past 3 p.m.

"I know of no contract or local union that would ever prevent a teacher from remaining after school to help a student or do the work necessary to help children," Weingarten said.

"I don’t recognize the teachers portrayed in this movie, and I don’t recognize that union. The teachers I know are women and men who have devoted their lives to helping children learn and grow and reach their full potential."

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