I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Propaganda, Thy Name Is "Won't Back Down"

Here's what "Won't Back Down" was really all about:
Can life, in fact, imitate art? Organizers leading a controversial new school reform movement are doing their darndest to try. Starting this week, the education reform group Parent Revolution kicked off a national 32-city tour with “Won’t Back Down,” the slick new Hollywood movie featuring the hot-button fight around a policy called the parent trigger. Parent Revolution wants to inspire parents to do what Oscar-caliber actresses Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis do in the film: Take over their failing schools. Critics—including teachers’ unions and many of public schools’ staunches defenders—warn that real life educating isn’t that simple.
Parent Revolution’s idea is to host the film, which traces a fictionalized community’s fight to overhaul a struggling public school, and win over crowds. Screenings are free and accompanied by post-screening discussions with activists who discuss the film’s themes and make an ask of the audience: Sign up to join the movement or stick around to learn more. The first stop: Buffalo, N.Y., where parents and the school reform organization Buffalo ReformED have been organizing to win the parent trigger for several years. [emphasis mine]
"Won't Back Down" was never going to make money, and it was never going to be a critical success - that wasn't the point. It's a piece of propaganda, meant to back an ideological agenda. It doesn't matter that it had the worst opening weekend in film history; it doesn't matter that the stars' Oscar hopes are dashed. The only objective of the film was to advance the corporate reform movement.

Understand, the $19 million Philip Anschutz paid for the movie was an investment; but the idea was never to make money on the actual film itself. No, this investment is in advancing a narrative where society's ills can be laid at the feet of teachers and their unions. "Won't Back Down" feeds a conservative mindset where poverty and inequality aren't the fault of a political and economic system tilted toward the rich; they are the fault of "bad" schools.

The last thing plutocrats like Anschutz want to admit is that America's schools are not the cause of our massive inequality; they are a symptom. These people will put forward pretty much any argument they think they can get away with if it keeps our conversation from even considering the possibility that  billionaires need to be taxed at much higher rates, and businesses need to be regulated much more stringently.

It's also critically important for these people to send a message that reformyness is a grassroots effort. Never mind that Parent Revolution is hosting the film on the dime of our current aristocracy:
Parent Revolution operates on a $1 million budget, funded primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the Eli and Edyth Broad Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. Education historian Diane Ravitch argues that the Gates, Walton Family, and the Broad Foundation combined invest far more funding in education reform than any foundations before them, with unchecked power to expand charters, vouchers, and other business-inspired reforms.
No, I don't believe Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Waltons - like Anschutz - are looking to make money directly from the continuing privatization of America's public schools. Their interests are much more refined: they are supporting anything that turns the conversation away from economic inequity.
"Won't Back Down" is just the latest distraction - but it's also a wake-up call for the reformyists. Parent Revolution can try to polish this turd, but the box office receipts show that more and more people just aren't buying it. Parents see their kids' teachers working hard, and they see them struggling in this weak recovery like everyone else. They know it's idiotic to try to blame teachers unions for our economic ills.

As fewer people buy into this nonsense, I predict we'll see an ever more caustic battle begin to brew. The carnival barkers these plutocrats hire to sell "reform" don't know how to do anything else - they certainly can't teach. If the hedge fund guys and corporate titans ever decide to turn off the tap of free-flowing money because the prols aren't buying snake oil any more, these reformy types might actually have to get a job doing something.

Can't have that, can we?

1 comment:

Deb said...

Is this tour related to the business one that is also showing the movie and coming to Trenton -- talked about here:


I am thinking we need to organize a Jersey welcome of this tour that makes our position very clear....and discourages them coming back.....