This week, courtesy of a decision by DNC political director Patrick Gaspard, some of the convention attendees at Charlotte's Democratic National Convention will be treated to the latest Hollywood attempt to demonize unionized public school teachers, in the form of a new movie called Won't Back Down.
The film, which is being marketed as an inspirational educational film (in the vein of classic past films like Stand and Deliver), features Maggie Gyllenhaal. According to the plot summary offered by HuffPo's Jon Ward, she plays a single mother whose efforts to improve her child's education are stymied at every turn by a conniving, intransigent teachers union.
Won't Back Down is hardly the trailblazer in Hollywood-endorsed demonization of teachers unions. Two years ago, the concept of unions as the enemy of education was already driven into the ground by the documentary Waiting for Superman, which education activist Diane Ravitch effectively skewered after its release.
The film's director, Daniel Barnz, is clearly quite sensitive to the early ripples of criticism about the film's choice of villians:
"I think that people are a bit tired of the finger-pointing and scapegoating within this world. I think they just want to see a way in which our schools can improve. That's the spirit of the film," said Barnz, who described himself as a "liberal Democrat" from a family of educators.Are there two more tired defenses than the ones employed here by Barnz? He jabs with the "Hey, some of my best friends are ..." defense, and then offers a counterpunch with "I'm the real victim here."
"I think this film is an absolute celebration of teaching. It is pro-teacher and celebrates all the incredible things that teachers do," Barnz said.
There is no mistaking who the villain of the piece is, however. It's the teachers' union, which fights the reformer parents, trying to buy off Gyllenhaal's character and then smearing Davis' character.
Barnz insisted that "the film is not anti-anything. It's pro-children."
"The film is not an anti-union movie," he said. "It is possible to support and criticize unions. And that, I have discovered, is not a very popular thing to say."
On that score, Barnz is wrong. The real victim here, as they have been for the last several years in the public conversation, are the countless hard-working public school teachers who have been vilified in that public conversation because they demand a voice, however faint, in the circumstances in which they ply their craft.
It seems that, with the latest and ceaseless wave of enmity towards teachers unions, that people really love their teachers, but only as long as (a) they never ask for anything and (b) they exert no control over their own careers.
It is easy to understand why the Republican Convention would jump at the opportunity to marry itself to Hollywood-endorsed union bashing (someone really ought to remember to ask some of the film's leading actors, like Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, if they have voluntarily relinquished their SAG cards).
It is far more difficult to understand why the Democratic National Committee, which must know that its only hope of attaining its political goals this year is with the assistance of organized labor, would so eagerly sign up. In fact, it is damned near impossible to understand.