Showing how painful the truth can be, AFT boss Randi Weingarten goes bonkers over a new film in which a teachers union is presented fairly.
Won’t Back Down, a movie due to open nationally on September 28th, centers around two determined mothers, one a bartender and the other a teacher, who team up and try to transform their failing public school in Pittsburgh. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, administrative corruption and the teachers union, they devote their lives to making a difference in the education and future of their children.
It’s a very good film – a film in which the educational establishment is presented in a realistic and honest way – the portrayal of good teachers, bad teachers and mediocre ones and the parents’ frustrations in dealing with the system’s bureaucracy are quite true to life. The union leaders are not caricatures, but they are like many that I knew and worked with during my long teaching career.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, however, has a very different take on the movie. With steam pouring out of her nostrils, she hyperventilated through a 1,864 word slash-and-burn screed which appeared as part of Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post blog last week. With many contenders, perhaps the most outrageous statement she makes is,
Unfortunately, using the most blatant stereotypes and caricatures I have ever seen – even worse than those in Waiting for Superman – the film affixes blame on the wrong culprit: America’s teachers unions.
This statement is positively goofy. Waiting For Superman is a documentary which deals with real parents and their children who are trying to escape their miserable public schools and get into better ones. Okay, truth be told, there is one caricature in the film. In Variety’s review, one woman was described as a “foaming satanic beast” and “an aptly shrill opponent of change.” The reviewer was describing none other than Randi Weingarten, who did a great parody of herself.
A bit later in her diatribe, she blurts out,
I don’t recognize the teachers portrayed in this movie….
That’s funny. I do. But then again, you must understand that she doesn’t really know what goes on in America’s classrooms. In fact, just last year, the union boss stepped in it big time when, speaking about education reform at an AFT conference, she said,
…the debate has been hijacked by a group of self-styled reformers. Let’s refuse to be defined by people who are happy to lecture us about the state of public education — but wouldn’t last 10 minutes in a classroom.
Well, I am a reformer and I lasted almost 30 years. And just what experience “in a classroom” does “Randi the Pompous” have? Not much. According to blogger Joann Jacobs,
A lawyer turned union leader, Weingarten’s classroom time was limited, counters Education Action Group.
Weingarten’s AFT bio claims she taught history at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn from 1991 to 1997. EAG obtained her personnel file via a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. Weingarten was hired as a substitute teacher in 1991 and received a “provisional” license in 1993. In 1994, she received a “certificate to serve as a substitute.” A 1997 letter indicates Weingarten didn’t submit documentation showing she’d met requirements for licensure.
No record indicates she ever served as a full-time teacher or was evaluated by a principal or other school official.
When Weingarten ran for president of New York’s United Federation of Teachers in 1998, her opponent, Michael Shulman, suggested that she was not a “real teacher.”
“She worked five months full-time that I’ve been aware of, in 1992, at Clara Barton High School,” Shulman was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “Since then she taught maybe one class for 40 minutes a day.”
And what would a teacher union leader rant be without some good old-fashioned class warfare and a potshot at parent trigger laws? Randi doesn’t disappoint. She hits ’em both in the same paragraph:
… it (the movie) promotes the deceptively named “parent trigger” laws, which are marketed as parent-empowerment laws. Actually, these laws deny both parents and teachers a voice in improving schools and helping children, by using parents to give control of our schools over to for-profit corporations. Parent trigger laws are being pushed by organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which Walden Media owner and oil billionaire Philip Anschutz helps fund.
Teachers unions hate parent trigger laws because they give parents power to change the governance structure of a school without having to kiss the union’s ring. And then, in an attempt to enlighten us ignoramuses, tells us that these laws are being promoted by the vast, billionaire-infested right wing conspiracy. (I do have give her credit, however, for not mentioning the Koch brothers by name.)
Then Weingarten becomes indignant, stating that,
… the film advances the “bad teacher” narrative through the character of Deborah. This teacher barks at students from her desk, uses her cell phone in class, refuses to let students use the restroom, puts children in a closet as a disciplinary measure and resists all reform efforts, yet miraculously remains employed at the school.
Miraculously remains employed??!! Teachers unions are notorious for doing their damndest to keep pedophiles and other miscreants in the classroom and yet she seems shocked that the bad teacher “remains employed at the school.” Good grief – can this woman really be so clueless??!!
In any event, the film is well worth seeing. The fact that it sent Weingarten over the edge should alone boost ticket sales through the roof.
About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.