Walmart, Right-Wing Media Company Hold Star-Studded Benefit Promoting Film About ALEC-Backed Education "Reform"
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The world’s largest private-sector employer and the country’s most prominent conservative entertainment company have teamed up to sponsor a fundraiser called “Teachers Rock.” Backed by Walmart and Anschutz Film Group, the August 14 event will feature live performances from musicians like Josh Groban and appearances from actresses like Viola Davis; it will be broadcast August 18 as a CBS special with messages from actresses like Meryl Streep. And it will promote the upcoming feature film Won’t Back Down, Anschutz’s entry in the “education reform” wars.
Won’t Back Down is reportedly a highly sympathetic fictional portrayal of “parent trigger” laws, a major flashpoint in debates over education and collective bargaining. Under such laws, the submission of signatures from a majority of parents in a school triggers a “turnaround option,” which can mean the replacement of a unionized school with a non-union charter. Such laws have been passed in several states, but due to court challenges, the "trigger" process has never been fully implemented.
“It's another Waiting for Superman," says Jose Vilson, a New York City math teacher and board member of the Center for Teacher Quality. "You have these popular actors, who as well-intentioned as they may be, they may not know all the facts, but they’re willing to back up a couple of corporate friends or people maybe they've become familiar with" in "trying to promote this sort of vision."
Parent trigger is one of the model bills pushed by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Adamantly opposed by teachers unions, parent trigger bills (as I’ve reported for Salon) have often been spearheaded and supported by Democratic politicians. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed slamming teachers unions, Campbell Brown highlighted Won’t Back Down as evidence that “teachers unions have become a ripe target for reformers across the ideological spectrum” and Hollywood “has turned on unions.”
Walmart, Hollywood and Anschutz Unite
According to a July 24 joint press release, Tuesday's concert is “presented by” Walmart and by Won’t Back Down, which the release describes as a “powerful story – inspired by true events” about “determined mothers who will stop at nothing to transform their children’s failing inner city school. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy and a system mired in traditional thinking, they risk everything to make a difference in the education and future of their children.” Proceeds from the fundraiser will go to the non-profits Teach For America, Feeding America and DonorsChoose.org.
According to the release, the benefit will “feature scenes” from the film, and Viola Davis, one of the film’s stars, will be among the performers making “special appearances” at the event. The CBS TV special will include additional appearances by celebrities including Streep, Adam Levine of the band Maroon 5 and NBC's The Voice, and Matthew Morrison, who stars as a beloved high school teacher on Fox show Glee. Representatives of Streep, Levine and Morrison declined requests for comment; representatives of Davis, Groban, and CBS did not respond to inquiries.
Reached over e-mail, Anschutz Film Group (AFG) CEO David Weil said that both the benefit and the film "highlight the importance of teachers and education and seek to inspire parents to believe that they can make a real difference in the lives of students and teachers.” The movie is produced by AFG's Walden Media subsidairy. AFG operates as a subsidiary of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which in turn is a subsidiary of the Anschutz Company. Philip Anschutz, the Anschutz Company's chairman and CEO and the billionaire owner of The Weekly Standard and other publications, has provided major funding to efforts to restrict obscenity on television and oppose bans on sexual orientation discrimination.