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Why 'Won't Back Down' Just Doesn't Stack Up

A former teacher takes on the untruths at the heart of this anti-union film.

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Yet despite the turmoil caused in local communities, these special interest groups have set their sights nationwide. And many of the same interests who have funded and backed the Parent Trigger in general are also backing this movie. Philip Anschutz, an oil billionaire turned media mogul known for supporting radical right-wing causes and union-busting, owns the company responsible for the film, Walden Media. He has also contributed to ALEC, the now-notorious corporate legislation mill, which pushes the Parent Trigger bill, among many other profit-driven education policies, in state legislatures across the country. (As a black woman, I find it especially troubling to see the same organization responsible for the Stand Your Ground laws that delayed justice for Trayvon Martin, pushing a "trigger" that is being aimed primarily at schools in poor black and brown communities. Likewise, it’s disturbing to see groups like Michelle Rhee’s “StudentsFirst” marketing the efforts of people who actively promote voter suppression as “empowerment”-- in the very communities where that suppression is occurring.)

Notwithstanding its shady provenance, and the many things it gets wrong about how teachers and unions work, I actually see this film as an opportunity -- as long as the general public knows the truth about who’s behind this movie, and avoids the trap of using its untruths to wage war against each other. As someone who recognizes the value of inspiring people to act on behalf of public schools, and who shares the film’s sense of urgency embodied in the mothers fighting for a better school for their kids, I want as many people as possible to think about how to improve schools for all children. But we can’t let misleading portrayals divide the very people who will be responsible for carrying out that improvement-- the united teachers, parents, students and communities in public schools-- or deceive them into seeking easy solutions to challenging problems.

It will be easy for those who are less familiar with education policy issues to passively accept the movie’s messages, and for those who know more to angrily rail against them—as we’ve already started to see in the online conversation around the picture. But that conflict only serves the corporate interest groups who benefit when regular people are too distracted by each other to effectively resist their agenda and pursue our shared interests. Instead, I hope we’ll take this moment to engage each other in a real conversation about uniting, not just fighting, for public schools.

Sabrina Stevens is a teacher-turned-education advocate and writer living in Washington, DC. She recently joined the American Federation of Teachers to lead its Voices from the Classroom project.