Hope is a dangerous thing. Who knows that line? While it may have been used in an entirely different setting in 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption, that classic film line applies perfectly in 20th Century Fox’s new movie that’s at least one part Stand and Deliver. The story presented in this new work focuses on two single mothers–played by Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal–who are fed up with the way in which the public school system in their city is handling their kids…or rather not handling them. Fittingly, the movie is set against the backdrop of one of America’s most famed cities, Pittsburgh. As much as people may dislike Pittsburgh’s sports teams, Jamie’s (Maggie Gyllenhaal) allegiance to the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates is a statement in itself. It all combines to make for a movie that while it may not be an Oscar contender, is a movie that will hopefully have other parents and teachers across the country taking notice and reacting.
The primary story of Won’t Back Down is much more real than people might want to believe. Despite what other critic may believe, Won’t Back Down is not an attack on unions. Rather, it’s an unbiased work that does take into account both the side of the teachers and parents, and that of the unions. What so many audiences fail to understand with this work is that it attempts not to attack unions but to show that unions and many teachers within unions have lost sight of what’s really important. That’s not to say that all teachers within unions are like this. Do not take that wrongly. But many teachers really have lost sight of what’s important. So many have become just as jaded and focused more on seniority and tenure than on the kids because the system has crushed their hopes. There’s that word again. Hope. Teachers have lost hope and given up, leading to the situation presented in this story.
It may come across as totally unnoticeable to some, but having the story set against the backdrop of Pittsburgh makes it that much more hard hitting. Pittsburgh was built on the backs of hard working Americans. But then something changed, destroying businesses and jobs in the city. When that happened, the trickle down effect from that was pretty clear. The state of that one school was a reflection of what had happened to the city. What’s more, as much as people may want to deny it, Adams Elementary could be any school in the country. So many cities have been decimated for economic reasons. And the effect of that has trickled down to those cities’ schools.
Something else that viewers should take into account in watching Won’t Back Down is that it is not just some dream of Ron Clark. However, it does show that what he created for his Ron Clark Academy can work in the public school system. But to effect that change, parents and teachers have to take a stand for a change. Otherwise they, along with their children and entire school systems will have no hope.
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