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Posted at 07:19 AM ET, 09/10/2012

‘Won't Back Down’ rankles teachers unions but may resonate in trenches

DALLAS — “Have you heard about those mothers who lift one-ton trucks off their babies?’’ actress Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character asks in a trailer for the upcoming film “Won’t Back Down.” “They’re nothing
Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis in the film ‘Won’t Back Down.’ (Kerry Hayes)
compared to me.’’

The movie, which was screened for audiences at the Republican and Democratic national conventions, is already rankling some teachers unions, which find it even more offensive than “Waiting for Superman.”

Both films apparently depict teachers as impediments to parents trying to steer their children through over-burdened public education systems. I say “apparently’’ because I wasn’t in Tampa or Charlotte, haven’t yet seen the film and didn’t even see much of the live convention coverage.

That’s because the conventions coincided with the first two weeks of school here in Texas. And while the school day ended before the prime-time speeches, prime time is when parenting begins.

I can, however, report that two weeks into the school year, I’ve already resorted to some of the pit-bull tactics Gyllenhaal evokes in the film.

I got the desired result, but it shouldn’t be this hard to navigate the public school system. And Lord help the child who does not have at least one stubborn (and English-speaking) parent to plead his or her case.

My teenager made me promise years ago never to go “pit-bull’’ at her school without advance notice. Bowing to her considerable wisdom, as well as her understandable desire not to be humiliated, I agreed.

The pit bull ban was temporarily lifted this year, however, after two weeks of unsuccessful attempts to resolve a scheduling dispute through diplomacy.

What happened is this: Students sign up for classes in the spring and receive their schedules immediately before the first class in August. My daughter found that she did not get into one of the Advanced Placement classes she’d requested. Instead of placing her in an equally rigorous class, she was simply shorted one class period and given a truncated school-day.

As a rising junior who has designs not only on college, but perhaps a scholarship, she wanted to be at school all day. A message to her counselor got no response.

I politely followed up and we were offered either “child development’’ or “nutrition.’’

Since child development seemed aimed at pregnant teens, my daughter attended nutrition class for a week. A varsity athlete, she said the class taught concepts she’d mastered in grade school.

Moreover, she didn’t want an obvious “blow-off’’ class on her transcript because she worried about how it would look to prospective colleges. Meanwhile, she learned that there was a “college reading’’ class that met at the same period and she wanted to transfer to it.

Our request was ignored. A second request brought word that there was no “leeway’’ in the master schedule to accommodate changes in electives.

This is when I sought, and was granted, temporary pit bull privileges.

I will spare you the details, except to say that I was neither profane, nor disrespectful. I did, however, say that I was at an utter loss to explain to my daughter - a member of the National Honor Society who spent two lunch periods already this year working on “teacher appreciation’’ gifts – why the school would prevent her from taking a more rigorous class.

My guess is that that’s what did the trick. There was no reasonable answer, other than bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake. It was too late to change the schedule because the schedule is done.

On Monday, my daughter will transfer to the college reading class, which was our goal. Her faith in the system is temporarily restored. Things again seem to make sense.

We are in a school district where the staff and the teachers range from good to outstanding. But we live in Texas, which implemented draconian cuts to public education in recent years. The strain that produced is being felt across the board.

Whether to continue limping along, or whether to restore funding, will be the focus of a number of grassroots efforts already taking shape in anticipation of the upcoming state legislative session that begins next year.

Maybe it was a good time to get in touch with my inner pit bull.


Lori Stahl is a reporter who covers politics and culture in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LoriStahl.

By  |  07:19 AM ET, 09/10/2012

Tags:  Won't back down, Republican and Democratic conventions, teachers unions, public education, Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal

 
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