The movie Won’t Back Down is sparking controversy despite not being officially released until next week, but I’m going to sidestep the finger pointing to get to what I saw as the take away from the movie: students win when teachers and parents work together.
Not all teachers are equal, and some shouldn’t be teaching at all. That may be something that not all people who work in education want to publicly acknowledge. Some teachers inspire students and have a life long positive influence, while the other end of the spectrum are those who’ve lost their spark or who look at their cell phone more than their students. They both exist.
The movie is dramatized, it’s not a documentary. Still, I was ready to cry from the first scene. After I became a parent, immediately it became really difficult to watch a child struggle or be treated poorly, even in a fictional setting. I don’t know how I would respond if my child was stuck at a school like the one portrayed, stuck with a teacher in the classroom killing time, while my kid couldn’t read, and the kids were bullies. I’d like to say no classroom is like that, but that’s not true. A mom friend told me when touring a local suburban school that the kindergarten teacher was reading a gossip site online while the kids sat at their desks. I immediately thought of that during this movie because the teacher is doing something very similar.
I don’t know how I’d respond if we were in a position where we didn’t have an alternative. It’s known that parental interest in their child’s education is a huge driver toward student success. But what if you were the only one who cared? If you were the only one advocating for your child, but no one listened or helped, does that really help enough? Although, I thought about this later in the movie when there is a parent-teacher group pushing to take over their failing school, and I wondered that if all of these people, both at home and in the classroom, wanted change, why couldn’t it happen without taking over the school? It’s easy to point at unions – and I have strong opinions on teacher unions – but can a few burnt out teachers ruin an entire school? Also, is it possible to be a good school if the students have zero support at home? You need both for schools to work.
The movie was a reminder that anyone can impact change, especially at the most local level. The common way of doing things isn’t always the best answer. Sometimes things exist just because they always have, and not because they’re the best or most effective way of doing things.
It’s an uplifting, empowering film with great actors. It opens at theaters on Sept. 28.
Disclosure: I saw the movie during a screening for Circle of Moms and was compensated for my time. All opinions are my own.