Thursday, October 11, 2012

"Won't Back Down" - My movie review.

Almost two weeks ago, I saw a screening of the movie "Won't Back Down" with my co-workers.

Now, for the purpose of full disclosure, I want everyone to know that I now work at an absolutely wonderful and high-performing charter school. I have only been there for three-and-a-half months, and I don't think that I can ever go back to a traditional district job. In fact, if I did not find this position, I was prepared to walk away from administration entirely. I had tried to get out of district special education administration once when I became a vice-principal, but circumstance had sucked me right back in after two years. Special education administration is a pretty thankless job. In the District Office, you are removed from building positivity with students in staff. Your world is pretty much managing unhappy adults. I still remember the one day when I came on campus, and a co-worker tried to joke, "Uh-oh! If you are here, either someone died or we are getting sued." It wasn't funny, it was true.

Another aspect of working in a traditional district position is the level of politics and political correctness that is required. You better not rock the boat or disturb the "no hassle castle." If you don't know my personality, you probably know at least one adult with ADHD. We are not known for our subtle self-censorship and political correctness.Besides, where does telling the emperor that his outfit is beautiful help kids? Not only am I not cut out to be a bureaucrat, I am more likely to say that a proud and honest nudist for a leader is exactly what the empire needs. That will not happen anytime soon.

So where was I? Oh yeah, the movie...

If you want a more typical review of the movie, you are probably better off on Wikipedia or IMDB.

I loved the movie, and I am not into emotional movies. I usually like my movies to be mindless entertainment. I say, "If I wanted to think, I would read instead."

I also learned quickly that the movie ticked a lot of people off. The criticism, or ire, seems to fall into two categories. The first is to critique it factually and mock the "inspired by true events" label. Really? A big Hollywood movie not being factually accurate? Weren't "Amityville Horror", "The Exorcist", and "The Haunting in Connecticut" inspired by true events? We need a Romney-style fact-check on those movies. The other critique is of the politics of the movies backers.

You know what? I don't care. The movie feels accurate. It is the perfect example of Stephen Colbert's Truthiness.

So what feels accurate about the movie?

  • A parents' frustration and sense of helplessness when their child is assigned to a bad or ineffective teacher.
  • The inspiration of a great teacher.
  • The injustice of a system that will lay-off a great fourth-year teacher, but keep an ineffective one  with more years.
  • The motivated educator's frustration of knowing that no matter how hard he/she works every lazy and incompetent coworker will be on the same salary trajectory.
  • The secret negotiations of shuffling "must-moves" (or whatever local term is used) between administrators that we cannot admit to parents is the reason why that entire class of children must suffer.
  • Having every character in the movie remind me of someone, or two, or three...
  • Seeing a news article of "Rubber Rooms" and knowing that I would be the one in legal trouble if I told the real, first-hand accounts that I have witnessed of say... a convicted sexual predator getting awarded salary for being fired for his crimes and other things that should be headlines that  spark community outrage.

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  • The lunacy and lack of basic logic when a lobbyist for the teacher unions claim that calls to reform the system so that it is fair and reasonable would be tantamount to returning to the days before labor unions protected workers from dying unnecessarily in unsafe working conditions.
  • The refusal in some folks to admit that the truth in these bullett points do more to advance the charter movement than Michelle Rhee, this movie, and charter school financiers combined.
  • Coming to the realization that the lies and smear tactics depicted in the movie are not fictional. If anything, they may be understated.
To quote the movie, "Are you mad?"
I am.
I am also motivated to open more high-quality schools with a staff as awesome as I work with now.



  1. Hi, great post. I am a School Psychologist and I stumbled across this blog looking for other professionals to network with. A lot of the characteristics of the school system resonated with me. Good to see that someone in the field is talking about these tough issues.

  2. I've read conflicting information online about what I need to get my standard certificate to become a school psychologist in NJ. A few sites say that a master's is not required in some states - NJ included. Others say otherwise. Any NJ school psychologist out there?

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  3. I would check with NJ association of School Psychologists.