The new film Won't Back Down, about parents taking education reform into their own hands, is getting hammered at Rotten Tomatoes, and CT's review gave the movie just 1½ stars. But the film is mainly being criticized—and not just by movie critics—for oversimplifying a complex situation: Education reform. Some have also faulted the film for demonizing teachers' unions.
Walden Media produced the film (distributed by Fox), and its president, Micheal Flaherty, has read many of the criticisms (including CT's). A devout Christian with a background in education and a passion for school reform, Flaherty addressed the criticisms in an e-mail conversation with CT. He hopes the film will inspire viewers to work with local schools and teacher to improve opportunities for their children.
Via e-mail, Flaherty noted that in any movie, "We only have two hours; we can't present all of the complexity of a public policy goal.To suggest that is possible is kind of foolish.I don't think Traffic did a good job explaining the complexities of the drug trade or The Blind Side did a great job of explaining the intricacies of foster care, poverty, adoption, and Division I recruiting, but they were entertaining."
Flaherty says he's not surprised that teachers' unions would criticize Won't Back Down: "They would discredit anything that challenges them and the status quo—an unjust status quo."
He asks what a parent would do if their child "was trapped in a failing school with the worst teacher in the state? This is not abstract—it is happening to kids all across the country. The answer is she would not waste her time with the complexities of the issue; she would fight with every fiber of her being to get her kid into a better classroom."
Flaherty points viewers to Doreen Diaz, "one of the real-life moms that inspired the story.If nobody changes anything at Doreen's school—one of the worst in the state of California—her kids will have a better chance of going to prison than going to college." Diaz rallied community parents to demand improvement at her daughter's elementary school, the worst in its district. Sixty-eight of its graduating sixth graders failed proficiency tests in math and English-language arts.
Flaherty has championed scenarios that enable parents to give their children the best education possible, and he commiserates with those who, by the luck of zoning/districting, end up with lousy schools. What can they do about it? They can move to another district, of course. They can send their kids to private school (if they can afford it) or try to homeschool. Or they can try to change things—and in some cases, resort to "parent trigger" laws in an effort for reform.
An occasional writer for The Wall Street Journal, Flaherty notes two articles that address some of his thinking on the topic. The first, titled "The Latest Crime Wave: Sending Your Child to a Better School," describes parents who have resorted to civil disobedience or outright lawbreaking by lying about their residence in order to get their kids into better schools. Flaherty notes that the idea is hardly new; it was portrayed in Betty Smith's 1943 novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Flaherty writes, "Francie Nolan is the bright young daughter of Irish immigrants living in Brooklyn's Williamsburg immigrant ghetto in the early 20th century. An avid reader, Francie is crushed when she attends her local public school and discovers that opportunity is nonexistent for girls of her ilk. So Francie and her father Johnny claim the address of a house next to a good public school. Francie enrolls at the school and her life is transformed. A teacher nurtures her love for writing, and she goes on to thrive at the school. Francie eventually becomes an accomplished writer who tells the story of her transformation through education."