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October 19, 2012

'Won't back down' outrages unions

(Continued)

Critics point out how the story is overly simplistic and tugs too much on the heartstrings. But this is to be expected. It's a morality tale, like so many other Hollywood movies with a point. The legend on the poster for "Erin Brockovich" reads: "She brought a small town to its feet and a huge company to its knees." Did anyone go to it expecting fine-grained nuance?

The villain in "Won't Back Down" is the system, with the union playing an outsize role in it. That makes it a more complex portrayal of education than the typical classroom movie that celebrates the heroic efforts of one teacher. The teachers in "Won't Back Down" are burdened by a lackluster principal, a deadening culture of mediocrity at their school, and their fear of losing their union protections when presented with the possibility of something new.

If all she cares about is the depiction of the teachers in the movie, Weingarten should be pleased. Many of them - after agonizing over their loyalty to the union and considerations of their own interest - decide to do the right thing and support a radical reform of their atrocious school.

The chief producer of the film, Walden Media, has an interest in promoting educational change. It's a sign of how deep the roots of education reform have sunk into the culture, though, that Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis appear in the film and broadly support its message. Gyllenhaal stipulates that she's pro-union, but all is not well with the teachers unions. Davis said of the protesters, "There was not one person - I guarantee you - that was outside there protesting with a picket sign who had their child in a failing school."

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