Top Ten Things You’ll Learn About Teachers’ Unions from new movie “Won’t Back Down” — Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal
[ Please see “Won’t Back Down” in theaters when it’s released and visit the film’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/wontbackdown ]
Because I’ve been covering the teachers’ union strike here in Chicago, I was given passes to see the new movie “Won’t Back Down” last night at a screening in the city for parents of Chicago Public School students. The movie is excellent and elicited cheers and knowing “Mmmm-hmmms” in choice parts when characters played by Viola Davis (a teacher in the film) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (a parent fed up with her child’s school being so terrible) worked to break the teachers’ union’s back in their little part of Pittsburgh. The film chronicles these two women’s maneuvers through the puzzle palace of the Education bureaucracy in Pennsylvania to their ultimate triumph over a corrupt and duplicitous teachers’ union that cares nothing for the children and everything about protecting bad teachers.
I think it’s a must-see movie like “2016: Obama’s America”. It would be worth paying to see and actually organizing an outing of friends to watch the movie together. I think home-schooling families would love the film and would rejoice yet again in their prescient decisions not to subject their children to schools under teachers’ union control.
Seriously, if you can walk out of this movie and still claim that the current system we have where teachers’ unions are the most powerful force in education (above parents, the needs of children, or even actual good teachers themselves) then you’re probably on the union payroll in some way.
Here are the Top Ten Things You’ll Learn About Teachers’ Unions from the movie “Won’t Back Down” (when you go see it yourself September 28th, 2012 as it’s released):
10. Most common reason cited for keeping unions around is that they stopped child labor 100 years ago and were the good guys once.
Holly Hunter is in this movie too, and she plays one of the teachers’ union officials. She’s the sort of character who starts off as a villain and then realizes she’s no longer the person she wants to be and sides with the school reformers in the end. If that’s a spoiler for you, then you don’t watch many formulaic Hollywood movies. Hunter’s character is written as the daughter of two people who unionized a textile mill in South Carolina in 1967 so she grew up believing that unions were the solution to everything. She’s the sort of person who can stand in front of you and declare that unions are the gift to the world because without them children would be working in factories and there’d be 80 hour work days down in coal mines for everyone.
The thing is, once upon a time unions were the good guys. That was 120 years ago. At some point in the 70s and 80s the unions stopped being part of the solution and became the problem. When there were no longer any abuses to remedy and working conditions to make safe, the unions focused on becoming a political powerhouse and fundraising operation for the Democrat Party…which in turn decided to enact public policy that would strengthen unions and expand them so they could collect more dues…and that meant more money for Democrats. In the process, the needs, wants, and rights of workers were shucked to the wayside and in the case of public sector unions the public’s well-being and needs were also shunted because the point of the unions became to cling to power and collect as much revenue as possible. The unions have made it impossible for anything to get better in cities like Pittsburgh because union workers will strike if much-needed reforms are attempted.
The unions in 2012 are as bad a threat to public safety and well-being as the villains 120 years ago were to workers before the unions were started. It’s ironic, and sad, that things have come full circle and the public needs rescue from the unions who were so long ago rescuers from villains themselves.
9. Public school teachers with tenure sit in classrooms shopping on Amazon, texting, and are rude and abusive to children but can’t ever be fired.
This is the kind of movie where certain characters stand in for types of people in this debate on public sector unions. Viola Davis plays an excellent teacher fed up with the teachers’ unions because they constantly protect bad teachers and lower the bar for performance for everyone. There is a teacher played by Rosie Perez who is smart and nice, but who loves having permanent job security so she doesn’t want anything to happen to the union because the union is her safety net and protection from ever being fired (not that she’d be in danger of that, because she seemed like a good teacher). Then there is another teacher character who is lazy, does the bare minimum possible, and actually shops for shoes on Amazon.com while she’s supposed to be teaching. When a child struggles to read a simple sentence three feet in front of her, this lazy pig just sits there like Jabba in his palace, texting with her thumbs. This appears to be the only sort of workout this woman gets in a day. Of course, this character becomes the biggest opponent of change in the school because she is clearly the worst teacher there. The union goes to bat for HER and declares all-out war on the teachers who want to improve performance and the level of education provided at the school. It’s the complete opposite of what should happen, but unions exist to prevent incompetent people from being fired because the incompetent ones are the ones who most regularly pay their dues since they need their tenure or else they’d rightly be fired.
8. The lie about “I have to buy my own supplies” is something teachers say to gain public sympathy and attention but is not logical when you look at what the teachers’ unions prevent teachers from having to do.
This is something that personally irks me, and it came up in this movie as well: teachers who claim they need to use their own funds to buy school supplies. I just don’t believe that’s true, because the teachers’ unions have strict rules in place that disallow teachers from staying in the school past 3pm. In the movie it was presented as if the teachers tried to help a kid after school hours, the police would be called to remove the teacher from the building because the union does not allow teachers to give kids this sort of extra help. The unions are presented as making sure the most inept, incompetent, and lazy teachers set the standards for everyone else and that anyone who tries to perform better than these buffoons is punished for “making them look bad”. So, it’s just not logical that the unions would allow teachers to purchase extra supplies for their students — and if the unions are so powerful (which we know they are) then how on Earth have they been unable to make it a contract requirement that teachers never have to pay for school supplies?
On a personal note, every job I’ve ever worked involved situations where I had to dip into my own pocket to get things I needed to do my job better but it was never in the budget to just buy these things and “expense account” them. When I worked as a market research analyst in the sales department of a hotel while in college, I got tired of having to write down various notes when I’d go out on scouting trips to spy on what other hotels were doing in terms of events, menus at their restaurants, or convention business (which was part of my assigned job requirements). I wanted a digital camera to be able to quickly snap pictures of things I’d have to transcribe by hand otherwise, but there was no money in the budget for that. I bought a camera myself to use and made my life easier. I did not gripe about having to buy this myself because I could have kept doing the job the old way, but I wanted things to be easier for myself; I personally paid for that convenience. Later on in my hotel career, I worked as the head of security at another property in Cleveland and I managed a staff of 20 people who had incredibly low morale when I took over the position. There was no money in my budget to show these people any sort of appreciation or encouragement. Managers at the hotel were graded on how well they did on “Employee Satisfaction Survey” scores that ranged from 1 (terrible) to 5 (excellent); the security team had always given its manager an average of “2” (poor) because no one ever did anything to make them feel recognized. So I started bringing in pizzas and doughnuts during staff meetings, at my own expense. I’d buy gift certificates to dinners in the hotel’s restaurant so they could bring their wives or husbands down to the hotel and have a nice time; I’d use these as incentives for excellence in the various things the officers had to do in their security jobs. All of this came out of my pocket, but I benefitted in the end because when it came time to score me as a manager I rated a 5 where my predecessor was a dismal 2. Some times you have to dig into your own pocket in a job to do things that the bureaucracy won’t allow you to do. If there are teachers really doing this, they aren’t doing it any more than I ever did working in corporate settings and buying things for people who worked under me that the corporate budget wouldn’t allow.
Oh, upper management used to get mad at me for doing this but couldn’t stop me. The Operations Manager at the hotel was a real jackass and he’d say “I hope you know I’m not reimbursing you for this” and I’d say, “Have I ever asked you to?”. The funny thing is, I probably made back everything I put into those lunches and gift certificates because scoring high on those evaluations required higher raises at performance evaluation time for me. That was not my intent as a manager at the beginning, but life has a way of evening the books like that if you just do the right thing for the sake of making people happier and improving the working environment for others when no one else bothered to try. Teachers who cry on TV about having to buy supplies somehow miss this lesson; if they were really doing this out of the goodness of their heart, then I doubt they’d be crying about it just as I never complained about having to do it in my jobs. If they are being FORCED to buy supplies, then I can’t imagine the union not stepping in to prevent that. So that’s why I never believe these crying teachers about all the supplies they are supposedly allegedly forced to purchase with their own $76.000/year salaries (not counting benefits!).
7. Teachers’ unions have a motto of “when children start paying union dues, we’ll focus on their needs”.
I didn’t catch his name, but in the movie this quote was attributed to the first president of the teachers’ union. And the character who said it was the main villain of the film, the head of the teachers’ union in Pennsylvania. He repeatedly said that the children didn’t matter and the union was there for the teachers because the teachers are who paid the dues that then paid the salaries of the union officials. It is really and truly this simple folks. This is why teachers’ unions are a bad thing because they don’t really “think of the children” the way they exclaim on their picket signs.
6. The bureaucracy deliberately makes things time-consuming and difficult to discourage average people from following through on anything.
A montage in the film showed Viola and Maggie going to various offices in the Education bureaucracy with their plan on fixing their school in Pittsburgh. At every stop, someone would laugh at them and tell them it would take years to accomplish what they wanted and that they should just give up. They had to make an appointment to make an appointment for a hearing. They couldn’t just schedule the hearing. They first had to write a 400 page request for an appointment that was indexed and copied in triplicate. Then they had to show up for an appointment once they’d completed that and the secretary would review their submission and determine whether it was complete enough to schedule the appointment with the person in charge of setting agendas for hearings. In every subsequent scene speaking to someone in the bureaucracy, Viola and Maggie would look increasingly more disheveled and exhausted.
This is how things are in Illinois, by the way, dealing with anyone who works for the City of Chicago, Cook County, or the State of Illinois. If I’m helping someone I know with whatever they need from the state, I’ve found that employees in Chicago are the nastiest to deal with so I try to bypass things by getting someone in Springfield (our state capital) on the phone. If it’s really important, it’s worth a 3 hour train ride down to Springfield to go to one of these offices in person and cut out the chore of having to speak to a Chicago-based “customer service specialist” who will more likely than not just hang up on you and later claim “I done pushed the wrong button”.
This is all deliberate. The government WANTS you to give up. The more of you who give up the less work all of them have to do.
5. School Boards deny petitions to improve schools for minute mistakes or any possible excuse they can use to say no.
If there was one spelling error in a 400 page document or a single typo, the Board would deny the petition on grounds of your incompetence. They’d actually claim they had no faith you could deliver on your proposal because of one typo. One Board Member clearly had splatters of chili or tomato soup all over his fat self from lunch an hour earlier and he had the temerity to tell Viola and Maggie their proposal would be rejected because they were incompetent due to one error he detected. Word to the wise: if ever you are dealing with the government on something important, hire a few proofreaders. It’s worth the $300 you’d shell out for 3 separate English graduate students to proof your work at a local university (and you find these people by going to the university and posting a notice on the jobs board looking for proofreaders for quick cash…grad students ALWAYS need money and can freelance these sorts of things for you all the time).
4. Most school boards are bought and paid for by the teachers’ union.
The Board voted according to who received the most campaign money from the union. Early in the movie, Viola and Maggie researched who was on the Board and how he or she got there. And in the end, it went down just as they thought with the ones bought and paid for by the union doing what the union wanted. The wild card was a Board member who had been on the Board for years and generally slept through proceedings but had no particular affiliation with the union and was re-elected to the Board term after term largely because he was a black man from the Civil Rights era whom no one would run against because it wouldn’t look good politically for them to challenge “an icon”. Otherwise, the union would have owned that seat too.
3. The unions will use Alinsky Methods to intimidate, persecute, and generally terrorize anyone they perceive as a threat.
The teachers’ union declared all-out war on Viola and Maggie, printing up defamatory flyers and digging up a drunk driving incident from Viola’s past to discredit her. The Alinsky Method is to pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it: and the union attempted to turn everyone against Viola once it isolated her. This is the go-to weapon of anyone on the Democrat side of the aisle. The goal is to destroy you on a personal level so you will shut up while also discouraging anyone inspired by you to stop doing similar things since they don’t want what happened to you to happen to them.
Classic union strategy. Make people fear for their jobs, their lives, and the safety of their families because you are a threat to the union’s hold on power.
2. Union officials send their own children to private schools because the public schools the unions control are so bad.
I’m sure you’re not surprised by this, but in the film Maggie at one point learns that the people who are on the School Board and who work for the union’s leadership office mostly send their schools to a private school with scholarships that the union arranges for them. So, union dues go to the union to send union executives’ children to private schools so that these elite don’t have to subject their own kids to the horrific conditions of private schools. This is how the Democrat Party works, folks: you see this time and again. They seek to be the elite that rules over all, with union muscle shaking down the meek for dues and the dues then funding the system that keep the elites in power. It’s like something out of a Soviet Republic, with the Party members’ families living in luxury while the workers’ families had to make due with garbage. This is the socialist paradise the Left keeps trying to foist on Americans…and actually succeeds in creating on a small scale in the public sector union world.
1. If parents actually banded together and demanded change and were willing to jump through all the hoops then the unions would be beaten; union inevitability and invincibility is a well-manufactured facade that crumbles with sustained pressure from the public.
I hope I am not giving away the movie when I tell you that Viola and Maggie win in the end. The teachers’ union loses this one battle, and that loss inspires others in Pennsylvania to take back their schools from the union. The union leader bemoans the fact that “unions will now be under assault across the country”. That’s a great thing. I saw BRING IT ON.
I walked into this movie already hating the public sector unions for their greed, corruption, and incompetence. I walked out of it really wanting to do something about this. If I was a parent with a kid in public school I’d try to take over that school like Maggie did by finding teachers like Viola who wanted to break the back of the teachers’ union. I’m not a parent though, but I want to look at what it takes to run for the School Board. Maybe I can still do that…or at the very least become expert enough in the abuses of the teachers’ unions to set out into my community to start revving people up for a sea change against the union stranglehold on power.
There is no reason public schools have to be this bad save for the sorry fact that they are union-controlled.
The kids deserve better and our communities deserve better educated children who’ll graduate from these schools, which currently are being mismanaged by bad teachers who can never be fired because of the unions’ power.
Time to take away that power.
Time to never again back down.
© 2012, Kevin DuJan. All rights reserved.
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