After spending time at the Republican convention in Tampa and the Democratic convention in Charlotte, I needed to decompress, so I headed to Montana where I am now sitting on a hill watching a herd of deer graze in the meadow below. These deer have no funny hats on their heads, buttons on their chests or noisemakers in their mouths. They seem peaceful and, as best I can tell, nonpartisan. I’m a little jealous.
I was fortunate to speak with lots of smart and interesting people at both conventions, but I’ve decided the most intriguing speaker, other than Bill Clinton, whose speech seems to have ended the suspense over whether President Obama will be re-elected, was Daniel Barnz, the director of the new education movie, Won’t Back Down. Barnz spoke after a screening of his movie at both conventions. Each time, he expressed bewilderment that his movie is being attacked as anti-teacher and anti-public education.
Even before the movie was released to the general public, AFT president Randi Weingarten sent out an open letter accusing Barnz of “using the most blatant stereotypes and caricatures I have ever seen.” She asserted the movie “is divisive and demoralizes millions of great teachers,” although she neglected to explain how these millions of teachers could be demoralized by a movie neither they nor the general public have seen.
Barnz comes from a family of public school teachers. He wanted to make a fictional movie about teachers and parents working together to improve a struggling school. His sin, at least from Weingarten’s perspective, is that the teachers and parents in his movie saw freeing themselves from the control of the teachers union as essential to their improvement efforts.
Barnz’s fantasy of a community of empowered teachers and parents working collaboratively to raise student achievement, and Weingarten’s vitriolic response, illustrate the power struggle at the heart of today’s efforts to improve public education.