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Guggenheim on Unions, Green Dot

The AV Club’s Nathan Rabin interviews “Waiting for Superman” director Davis Guggenheim, and their discussion eventually turns to unions. Guggenheim adds some nuance to the position on teachers’ unions expressed in his film, but he continues to characterize unions as the “enemy.”

AV Club: How does it feel to have teachers’ unions attack the film?

Davis Guggenheim: It sucks. I mean, when you make An Inconvenient Truth, it’s not difficult to have your enemy be Exxon Mobil or the dirty coal company. In this case, I’m a Democrat, and I believe, I really believe in unions, I’m a member of a good union. So that was an uncomfortable truth for me to have to talk about, but I’ve tried to make a reasonable film. I don’t know where it’s written, but somehow it’s written that you can’t criticize the unions. Otherwise, you hate teachers.

Guggenheim also touts the Green Dot model, though he failed to mention the successful, and unionized, Green Dot New York in his film. Edwize contributor Jonathan Gyurko recently wrote in the Huffington Post that while Guggenheim had plenty of footage of that school, he left it on the cutting room floor.

DG: I love the Steve Barr model. [Barr is a charter-school organizer in Los Angeles, featured in Waiting For Superman. —ed.] He’s got what they call “thin contracts.” Every great revolution swings to the wrong direction, and I’m sure you’re going to find these teachers in these high-performing charters that burn out. I have no problem with those teachers being unionized and making sure that they’re being paid properly, and that they’re not taken advantage of.



  • 1 This Week In Education: White House: Gibbs Claims Obama Has No Regrets Over Rhee « Parents 4 democratic Schools
    · Oct 14, 2010 at 9:30 am

    […] don’t know where it’s written that you can’t criticize the unions. Otherwise, you hate teachers. – Davis Guggenheim via […]

  • 2 Robert D. Skeels
    · Oct 14, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    That’s nuance? If by “reasonable” Guggenheim means reactionary, then I suppose he’d have a point. Given his specious understanding of pedagogy and pubic education in general, it’s no wonder he doesn’t see just how damaging his privatization propaganda piece really is. Hiding behind his own union hardly disguises his intentions. “Waiting for Superman” heralds the return of McCarthyism.

    What’s more, Guggenheim’s suggestion that yellow unions like Asociación de Maestros Unidos (AMU) are a model as opposed to real unions exposes him for what he is. Green Dot Public [sic] Schools’ yellow, or company union, AMU is nothing to praise despite CTA certification. AMU doesn’t even have its own office or website, all of its activities stem from Green Dot’s corporate headquarters. This explains a dearth of activism from AMU’s members in the midst of the worst budget cuts imaginable. This company unionism also explains why Green Dot teachers’ average experience, while marginally higher than the CMO average of 2 years [1], is still less than 3 years. This in turn probably explains Green Dot’s dismal performance [2], despite all the advantages it holds in extra funding, motivated parents, and exclusion of ELL and special education children.

    Nothing was more clear to demonstrate how powerless AMU was than when Marco Petruzzi made the fiat declaration that Green Dot was closing down Ánimo Justice HS. Teacher Judy Riemenschneider mentioned AMU’s thin contract when she said “The ultimatum is at odds with Green Dot’s principles, which call for teacher input into critical decisions.” [3] Like any private institution, Green Dot felt no obligation to honor it’s contractual obligations to its teachers or union. Like any private institution, Green Dot didn’t care about the students, parents, or community when it shuttered Ánimo Justice. Like all charter schools, Green Dot was only concerned about their bottom line. Like Scott Folsom said at the time “The Animo Social Justice (?) Charter is closing for no other reason than Green Dot cannot show a return on their financial investment.” [4]

    When UdB held a community forum to halt the closure of several schools, including the above mentioned one by corporate charter darling Green Dot, I have a half dozen “unionized” AMU members tell me what it’s really like working for a charter. [5] Maybe if Guggenheim spent time with teachers instead of millionaires like Geoffrey Canada and right wingers like Michelle Rhee, he would have heard reality. As a public education activist I get charter teachers telling me all the time what it’s like to work for capricious EMO and CMOs. [6]

    Guggenheim rails against unions and quotes “studies” by far right think tanks like Cato, AEI, and Hoover on how one can overcome “environmental issues like poverty.” Thanks for the Ayn Rand free market lesson on pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps there Guggenheim! I hope you’re enjoy all that money from the Waltons, Gates, and Broad foundations.

    I’m always amazed that people shouting the loudest that race and class have nothing to do with academic performance are inevitably rich white males. Case in point — the smug Davis Guggenheim.

    [1] See http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/inside-school-research/2009/04/are_teachers_jumping_the_chart.html and http://www.catalyst-chicago.org/news/index.php?item=2637&cat=23 Of course, if Guggenheim was a real documentary filmmaker instead of a propagandists, he would have done his homework to discover this fact instead of making the ridiculously smug comment “I’m sure you’re going to find these teachers in these high-performing charters that burn out.”
    [2] as discussed by journalist Caroline Grannan http://rdsathene.blogspot.com/2010/01/14-of-15-green-dot-schools-are-failing.html
    [3] http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-greendot23-2010mar23,0,1323354.story
    [4] http://4lakidsnews.blogspot.com/2010/04/fremont-high-animo-green-dot-social.html
    [5] http://blogs.uscannenberg.org/neontommy/2010/03/two-south-la-high-schools-unit.html
    [6] http://rdsathene.blogspot.com/2010/04/advocating-public-education-roundup.html