Won’t Back Down’s Teaching Moment
Hollywood goes back to school.

Walden Media president Micheal Flaherty


LOPEZ: Did you expect protests of the movie? What do you wish people denouncing the movie would consider?

FLAHERTY: I have been to this rodeo before, both through my work in the Massachusetts state senate and as one of the companies behind Waiting for Superman. So I knew that there would be protests, and as a First Amendment absolutist, it is a wonderful thing to see. But I can’t escape the irony that nearly all of the people who are protesting the film have never even seen it. And these are people who are supposed to believe in the value of education and the key role exploring new ideas plays in that process. But they prefer censorship to dialogue. The behavior of the protesters parallels the problem with the attitude of the defenders of the status quo in education — they are allergic to even listening to new ideas.

And there is another troubling parallel. It is impossible to quarrel with the reality of our film’s basic premise — some of our children are trapped in failing classrooms, when just across the hall there is a teacher who can have a transforming impact on their education. That is the definition of inequality. But rather than answer the essential question of social justice — “What would you do if that was your child?” — the deniers resort to name-calling, bullying, and intimidation.

LOPEZ: Is the movie in any way meant to be a commercial for trigger laws, or to advance another policy agenda?

FLAHERTY: This movie is about people, not policy.

LOPEZ: What does this movie have to do with William Wilberforce?

FLAHERTY: William Wilberforce came to understand the profound cost of change in battling a powerful status quo and an entrenched mindset. But his name will never be lost to history, unlike the millions of his co-belligerents and fellow abolitionists who paid such a personal price with their health, their wealth, their friendships, and even their lives. There is an enormous personal cost in fighting for change, and today there are a number of brave men and women who are fighting not just for their kids, but for other people’s children. And they are paying quite a price. I have met with parents in Compton, Calif., as well as Adelanto, Calif., who have been fighting to improve their kids’ failing schools. They have endured harassment that most of us will never experience. A number of the moms who are Latina have even been threatened with deportation unless they abandoned fighting for their kids. And unlike Wilberforce, these folks do not have a personal fortune and the influence of being a Member of Parliament on their side. But they never abandon the fight.

LOPEZ: What heartened or surprised you about the reception for Waiting for Superman?

FLAHERTY: The greatest surprise for me with Waiting for Superman has been the enormous impact it continues to make outside of the box office. And on a personal level, I got to meet one of the world’s great filmmakers — Davis Guggenheim — and one of my favorite producers, who is now a good friend — Leslie Chilcott.

LOPEZ: Who was your favorite teacher, and why does that matter?

FLAHERTY: I went to public school until high school, and I had no shortage of great teachers — in sixth grade, Miss Greeley taught us poetry and art, and in middle school, Mr. Garfield taught me English. But as I talk about teachers, let me give a shout-out to my school librarian, Mrs. Ruddick. She went out of her way to encourage me to read and was always recommending new books. She knew about the power of stories and their ability to transform and to challenge.


— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.


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