Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Won't Back Down: An Important Public Service Message from Rupert Murdoch

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 12:52 PM

Would you buy a used public school from this woman?
  • Would you buy a used public school from this woman?
Over at The City Paper, Joey Garrison reported yesterday on Monday's Opry Mills screening of the pro-charter school polemic Won't Back Down, which tells the story of "two determined mothers­, one a teacher, [looking] 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."

The movie's take on whom to blame for the crisis in public education sounds clear, judging from this admiring review: "The film opens on a chaotic classroom in which the teacher is fiddling with her iPhone while the computer screen behind her displays Amazon’s selection of women’s boots." Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis and Lance Reddick (aka Cedric Daniels from The Wire) star, along with Holly Hunter, who plays a character described in the review as "a conniving but secretly unsure union employee."

Not all the important players appear onscreen, however. A report published by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation discusses the political and financial ties of Won't Back Down's backers, including News Corporation mogul Rupert Murdoch and billionaire conservative Christian activist Philip Anschutz — the latter a financial supporter of Colorado's Amendment 2, a 1992 forerunner of the legislative effort that overturned Nashville's anti-discrimination ordinance protecting GLBT employees.

The report also examines their motive in making the film: To promote "parent trigger" laws that enable parents to vote to turn over autonomy of their children's failing public schools to privately operated, for-profit charter organizations — without interference from democratically elected local school boards. It passes along this tidbit:

In an audio clip published by the Nation in October 2010, anti-union consultant Richard Berman reflected on the best strategies for pushing forward private education reforms. If we can't "intellectualize ourselves into the [education reform] debate…we need to hit on fear and anger," Berman explained. "Because fear and anger stays with people longer. And how you get the fear and anger is by reframing the problem."

The Sunlight Foundation report found that the organizations typically funding such efforts overwhelmingly support Republican candidates, ostensibly because Republicans are traditionally pro-charter. Yet as Garrison noted, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat, was in attendance at Monday's screening to show his support for the conservative-funded pro-charter film, providing the opening comments and offering the following quote:

Dean, a charter school supporter, called the event “less about the specifics of a parent-trigger law and more about engaging in meaningful discussion about our schools and how we can improve them working together as a community.”

Also worth noting: A representative from the California-based group Parent Revolution was in attendance at the screening as well. Headquartered in Los Angeles, Parent Revolution seeks to organize parents who will themselves take steps to implement trigger laws by forming "parent unions" that will provide a theoretical balance against teacher's unions.

An April 2011 article in Mother Jones chronicled Parent Revolution's early steps, including criticism of its astroturf-esque corporate parentage and dubious ground-game strategies. Additionally, a New York Times article published in September 2011 detailed the lawsuits that arose from Parent Revolution's first lobbying efforts. Both articles are good primers on a group Nashvillians will likely be hearing a lot about.

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