by The Philadelphia Student Union October 16, 2014
Tonight, the School District of Philadelphia screened “Won’t Back Down” for their Parent Appreciation night during their “Family Appreciation” Month. This movie, at its core, blames teachers and neighborhood schools for the failure of a broken education system that intentionally sets schools and students up to fail. This film demonizes teachers unions and promotes charter expansion as the solution to “failing” school districts. Showing a movie that blames teachers for the struggles of public schools while promoting charter expansion as the solution, a week after the SRC canceled the teachers’ contract, is a shady ploy to manipulate parents into going along with the school district’s plan towards privatization. The event was, in part, sponsored by Comcast, a company that took in over $64 billion in 2013 while students schools continue to go underfunded.
We had no choice but to take action in protest of another blatant attack on our teachers and our schools. Just like in the movie, Philadelphia public schools have been subject to systematic disinvestment for decades. This intentional underfunding of our schools by Governor Corbett is the number one problem we face. If our schools had been funded via a full funding formula, public schools would be flourishing, not failing.
While neighborhood schools are being closed—24 were closed in 2013—charter schools are expanding. Closing down our schools only robs us of our futures and contributes to the further gentrification of our city. We know that this is not the future that we want in our city. The plan to close our neighborhood schools is already in full effect, and screening this film is only another attempt for the school district to maneuver public opinion.
Real family appreciation means the district doing everything possible to ensure that every student has fully staffed and fully funded neighborhood schools where they feel safe and have a real opportunity at achieving their dreams and goals. We need our school district to be an advocate for the students, parents, teachers, and community members that is it supposed to support. So far, Dr. Hite and the SRC have only gutted out schools to the bone and disrespected our teachers on top of that.
Students, parents, and teachers have had enough. We have shown, and will continue to show, that WE are the ones who won’t back down in the name of saving our schools and our education. We won’t back down when the district says they are closing more of our schools. We won’t back down when the district takes away the rights of our teachers. We won’t back down when Governor Corbett continues to strip away the very resources we need to succeed. We won’t back down when confronted with propaganda that spreads manipulative ideology that is intended to strip away our right to an equal education. We will continue to shut down movies, to have our voices heard, and to fight for the schools we deserve.
UPDATES as of October 21st:
Here is a slice of some of the coverage that we have been recieving after the action:
For parent appreciation night, the district screened “Won’t Back Down” starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The film, funded by the same creators of the anti-union documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” portrays a Pittsburgh teachers’ union whose interests are aligned with maintaining the status quo rather than serving children. Philadelphia students protested the film’s screening, arguing that it bashed unions and pit families against teachers, just like a recent action by the School Reform Commission.
School Reform Commissioner, Sylvia Simms, responded by shouting at students in an apparent fury. The noise in the video makes it difficult to make out exactly what she says, but students report Simms told them, “you all probably go to failing schools,” and, “you belong in jail.” Screaming and shouting from Simms could not quell this group of students who remained steadfast in their action.
“I thought it was pretty inappropriate for a public official to yell at people she’s supposed to be representing,” said Anderson, who was among about 20 students staging the sit-in. “I also thought it was really inappropriate for her to assert that the school we went to, if it were failing, meant we had no right to dissent.”
“They’re showing a propaganda film in order to manipulate parents to support how the SRC cancelled the teachers’ contract last week,” said McNair. “If students don’t stand up for themselves and for their teachers, it’s just going to keep spiraling downward. We deserve the same quality of education as the suburbs.”
After nearly 15 minutes of protest, the student members of the Philadelphia Student Union marched out of the auditorium and ended their action by walking past eight police officers newly arriving to the scene, leaving a confused and annoyed audience to return to their seats and continue on with their feature presentation.
Here is the latest video of our Won’t Back Down action at the School District of Philadelphia where parents and supporters of Commissioner Simms called for our arrest. We were peacefully protesting the anti-union & anti-public school propaganda the district was promoting by trying to show this film. Calling for young people to be arrested as adults should never be the solution to any problem. The video is posted below.