Republicans like to stereotype Hollywood as the Land of Liberals. But when it comes to portraying public education, Hollywood is anything but progressive. The (staged) documentary "Waiting for Superman" played like it was written by the Koch Brothers. Actually, it was produced in part by Philip Anschutz' Walden Media, and Anschutz is another well-known right-wing billionaire who makes the "Koch Brothers look moderate in comparison."
Now Walden Media's doing it again, this month releasing another big-budget, wide-release, anti-public education movie, "Won't Back Down." They've dropped the pretense of a documentary this time, but the film promises the same attacks on teachers and their unions - blaming them for underperforming schools, while never acknowledging the rampant and growing child poverty in America. It's poverty - not bad teachers - that leaves kids without books in the home, food on the table, and beds of their own to sleep in, much less available parents to help with the avalanche of complex homework that today's public schools are often forced to assign.
Funny how you never see a "failing" school with rich students, isn't?
Why can't Hollywood produce an honest look at public education? Why can't we have a real documentary that tells another side of the story, one that isn't afraid to show that some kids do succeed in public schools, while also educating viewers about the complexity of student needs?
A group of independent filmmakers in the Los Angeles area have filmed just such a movie. But they need your help to get it seen. Follow me below the squiggle to learn how you can help.
On May 8 this year, 50 film crews spent the day following students, teachers, administrators and parents in the Pasadena Unified School District [PUSD], where my children go to school. Pasadena, located about 10 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, is well-known as a wealthy community, but the rich here live among large swaths of poor and immigrant communities, as well. More than 70% of PUSD students come from families whose income is low enough to qualify them for the federal government's free and reduced-price school lunch program. The district is 61% Latino, 16% Black, 14% White, 4% Asian, and 4% mixed, according to California state testing data.
The directors heading the 50 film crews included Emmy Award-winners, as well as documentarians who've created shows for the Discovery Channel, TLC, History Channel, National Geographic, and ESPN. While many have worked on big-budget films before, these aren't the Hollywood studio elite. They're labor, not management. Most of those who are parents send (or have sent) their kids to public schools, too.
They don't have billionaires like Philip Anschutz, the Koch Brothers, or Bill Gates paying them.
The directors have cut 50 four-minute short films from the more than 350 hours of footage the shot that day, and you can watch the films on the project's website: GO PUBLIC: A Day in the Life of PUSD. The film's producers have just launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $25,000 to finish editing those 350 hours of footage into a two-hour theatrical documentary, as well as to pay for marketing and distributing the film.
If anyone's going to see this project outside the Pasadena community, it's up to us. Without right-wing financial backing, "Go Public" need grassroots fundraising to get this film in theaters. And the project needs viral marketing to help spread the word. You can help by sharing links to the 50 short films on Vimeo, and sharing links to the "Go Public" Kickstarter campaign.
Let me share a few of the four-minute shorts with you here, so you can see the potential of this project:
Abby Griffith and her twin are 2nd graders in San Rafael Elementary School's Dual Language Spanish Immersion Program. She is learning how to read and write (and sing) in two languages:
Esther Chun is a third-grade teacher at Franklin Elementary School. Her sweet personality and emphasis on character make her popular with the kids, but as a relatively new teacher, she is in danger of being laid off due to budget cuts:
The 50 film crews included 10 student crews, made up of kids from the district. My son was the youngest of the 10 student directors, just 11 when he shot and edited this film last spring. His subject, Frances Weisenberger, is the principal of Hamilton Elementary School, named a "Blue Ribbon" school in 2009 by the U.S. Department of Education. Ms. Weisenberger knows that once she walks through the doors of her school, anything can happen, and the day she planned on having is rarely ever the day she gets.
These are the public school stories that Americans need to see in theaters, and on TV - not the anti-teacher, anti-union screeds that Hollywood's making now. But we can't spread these stories without your help. Please consider investing a few dollars in the "Go Public" Kickstarter campaign, and help us spread the word about what's really happening in America's urban school districts. Thank you!