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Hey, Corporate Reformers: Guess What? We Won't Back Down, Either

This new film, set to open Friday, is not merely anti-teacher and anti-union, it's also anti-democratic, according to one education expert.

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These “Parent-Tricker” laws are fundamentally anti-democratic. They permit a small group of parents to essentially hand over a public asset to private owners. Public schools do not exist just for the parents and families who happen to currently be using them. That’s what we mean when we say public education is a public good: public schools serve the broader public interest by educating future citizens. They also exist for tomorrow’s students who have yet to step foot in the door. Parents have every right to fight to make education the best it can be for their children, but they cannot do it by converting public goods into private assets.

Ironically, I have to point out that these anti-public good school privatizers got public tax-payer dollars to make their film. Yes, that’s right: we here in Pennsylvania extend a nice fat tax-credit to film companies to induce them to make their films in places like Pittsburgh. Those are tax dollars we don’t see in state revenue and can’t use to support our public schools. Perhaps we need (some) tax credit programs, but it’s all about priorities: maybe we shouldn’t be giving our money to film makers who turn around and tell blatant lies about Pittsburgh, our schools, and our teachers while undermining public confidence in a crucial public resource.

But that’s just what this film is doing. And the filmmakers have had plenty of help spreading their message. Last month, CBS aired a concert called Teachers Rock, funded by Walmart, as a promotion for “Won’t Back Down,” with stars including Carrie Underwood, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Garner, Matthew Morrison, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, Usher, and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. And the Democrats stepped right in line with Republicans, both showing the film at their recent national conventions. (See my recent open letter to President Obama’s senior education policy advisor following up on my meeting with him about this very subject: “ Dear Mr. Rodriguez…”)

You can be sure we’ll be hearing lots more about parent-trigger laws across the country and here in Pennsylvania, too. Proponents have already popped up in Harrisburg: back in June during the budget debates, House Bill 2352 wound up defeated, but it would have created a parent trigger law. Remember, this is where grassroots activism will make the difference: this past spring, Florida parent groups fought back against proposed parent trigger legislation and won after an intense battle.

When the film opens across the country September 28 th, we will have an opportunity to weigh in on the conversation. Many eyes will be on Pittsburgh and the grassroots movement here is ready. But public education advocates everywhere will need to write letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, and engage our social networks to expose the real agenda behind “Won’t Back Down.” We’ll need to attend showings and discussions. We’ll need to let the country know what authentic parent engagement looks like, why we are fighting for public schools as a public good, and that we won’t back down, either.

A different version of this essay originally appeared on Yinzercation. Reprinted with the author's permission.


Jessie B. Ramey is the ACLS New Faculty Fellow in Women's Studies and History at the University of Pittsburgh, and the author of Child Care in Black and White: Working Parents and the History of Orphanages (University of Illinois Press, 2012). She is the founder of the public education advocacy Web site Yinzercation.