Later this month, a new movie will come out, another look at the portion of the education system that’s failing our kids. Unlike previous movies, such as Waiting for Superman, this is a fictionalized movie, so there is an ending to the story. By the time the credits roll, the kids are doing better than when the movie opens and the little girl is running late to her run-down school, chomping on a Pop-Tart, with her disheveled, working-two-jobs mom running behind her.
WON’T BACK DOWN stars Viola Davis & Maggie Gyllenhaal as two determined mothers, one a teacher, who will stop at nothing to transform their children's failing inner city school. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, they risk everything to make a difference in the education and future of their children.
I saw a preview of the movie last month, courtesy of Mocha Moms of the MidAtlantic and LiquidSoul Media. I considered this story through various lenses - as a mother of four children in public schools, as a former teacher, and as an active parent advocate.
I won’t give away the story (don’t you hate spoilers?), but I will say there were parts that I liked and cheered for - like when the parents finally showed some interest in their kids and weren't afraid to stand up for improving their education. I loved the underlying message - parents have to be advocates for their kids. There were also parts I didn't like and with which I disagreed. At one point, the official from the teachers’ union makes an offer that Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character turns down. It was a hard decision and I’m not sure what I would’ve done. In another scene, there was a manner of disciplinary action taken against Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character’s daughter, and had that been my child, the Principal would have to call a “code red” or “code purple” or whatever is the security code for “lock your doors, ferocious mama bear on the loose.”
But here’s a couple of the questions that came to my mind while watching the film.
- What is the cost of advocacy to your child? Change takes time, usually a long time. (This time frame was drastically shortened in the movie, but, well, it’s a movie.) What are you giving up for your child while you fight for structural change in the school system? What should parents do in the meantime so their kid’s not continuing to be at a disadvantage?
- Income level of families, obviously, affects the choices that parents have for their child’s education, whether its moving to an area with better public schools or sending them to private schools. But is it fair that poorer students have such few options – failing schools, mediocre schools, and a 1/1000 chance in a lottery to go to a better school? How do we level the education opportunities for all children?
- How do we better compensate the “good” teachers and improve, or (dare I say) get rid of, the “bad” teachers?
Admittedly, I have little direct experience with “failing inner city school.” We have been blessed to be in a great school system and my children have mostly had good teachers. However, I have taught in schools with “urban issues” and some of the schools in our county also deal with those concerns usually ascribed to inner city schools. Even in a good school system, there’s still some tired, cynical, unenthusiastic teachers; uninvolved, uninterested, tired, over-worked, over-whelmed parents; uninterested, unmotivated students. See a theme here? Everybody’s tired of the other tired people.
The message – all the stakeholders have got to be motivated and involved. Motivated to teach, to learn, to support education. It’s not just the teachers who have to be excited about their lesson plans. The kids can’t be the only ones enthusiastic about reading Shakespeare. There’s got to be more than parents raising their hands to volunteer at the book fair. As the saying goes, it takes a village. And not just a village of folks sitting around twiddlin’ their thumbs, but citizens who are working and contributing to making a better village.
See the movie, let me know what you think. In the meantime, what are you doing in your kid’s school to improve education?