“I’m not Maggie Gylenhaall, but I play her in real life.” That’s a message being promoted by organizations, many like our grassroots movement, furious with the release this Friday of the Hollywood film, “Won’t Back Down.” The movie stars Gylenhaall as a mother struggling to change the school her daughter attends, working with a sympathetic teacher played by Viola Davis. The fictional pair illustrates the frustration many parents and teachers feel about the very real problems facing public schools, particularly in low-income neighborhoods around the country.
But the movie puts the wrong target in its crosshairs. Our public schools are staggering under years of chronic under-funding and inequitable distribution of resources. We need look no further than the sorry state of school libraries, as our incredible viral action this past week so clearly demonstrated. (See “A Picture is Worth 1,000 Books.”) These problems have been compounded over the past decade by a national obsession with high-stakes testing that has done real damage to education. Yet the film blames teachers and school administrators. And it promotes a “solution” supported by the ultra-right filmmakers – parent trigger laws designed to close public schools – that have nothing to do with real parents and teachers working together to fix real problems. (If you haven’t yet, please read “We Won’t Back Down, Either” for background on the parent-trigger law, who made this movie and why.)
The fact is, I am Maggie Gyllenhaal – and so are you. All of us parents, teachers, and concerned community members working together every day to support our public schools and make real change. Pulling the trigger on a school such as Pittsburgh Manchester preK-8 would never solve the problems facing urban public education. But every single day, volunteers like Mr. Wallace Sapp are working in that school and teachers like Sheila May-Stein are finding ways to partner with parents to find real solutions to issues such as empty bookshelves. The Stack the Shelves campaign is an example of real, meaningful parent and community engagement – the kind that helps us all understand and address the underlying issues of equity and funding that we need to focus on.
OK. So I’m not really Maggie Gyllenhaal. (Too bad, actually, since she is terribly cute.) But we all play her in real life. And when real parents and real teachers work together, we are incredibly powerful. So here’s a fantastic opportunity for us to tell the world about how Pittsburgh parents, teachers, and community members are coming together to support public education:
This Friday, the PIIN (the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network) education task force is holding a press conference at 3:30PM in front of Colfax K-8 in Squirrel Hill. (Note: this is a second venue change, and PIIN tells us the final location.) It is scheduled right after school so that parents can zip over with their children and will only last 30 minutes. If you are in the area, please plan to come and tell the media why “I’m not Maggie Gylenhaall, but I play her in real life.”