The fight to improve classroom education is a theme we have seen often: To Sir with Love, Music of the Heart, and Lean on Me. Won’t Back Down is one more film about improving classroom education, in a Pittsburgh school in a bad neighbourhood. For all its similarities Won’t Back Down has one unique twist: Poverty is only ONE of the reasons that schools fail. The film examines the culpability of teachers’ unions, and administration.
This is not an anti-union film, nor is it an anti-bureaucracy film. This is a film that asks viewers to seek what is best for students when education is the subject. If education is student-focused, then unions and administration must compromise. The primary purpose of a teacher’s union is to protect its members. That is NOT the same as improving education for students. Similarly, the primary purpose of administration in an education system is to manage public funds responsibly. That is NOT the same as improving education for students.
Putting students at the centre of education will force bad teachers out, and make administrators pay for services and supplies they would not otherwise. The consequences of student-centred schooling are presented in this film by dialogue between characters. These dialogues are often between the converted and members of the stakeholder groups who are questioning.
Are there villains in this film? No. There are, however, characters who are closed minded, set-in-their-ways, reluctant to change. By the film’s end they no longer run Adams Elementary School. They, however, are still running the system. The message is clear by the end of Won’t Back Down that change will only come, one school at a time.