Backpack Full of Cash sheds light on various methods of schooling
Narrated by activist and actor Matt Damon, Backpack Full of Cash holds back no punches. Set in 2013 and 2014 Philadelphia, PA, the film paints an accurate picture of the United States’ education system. The 90-minute documentary details the alarming trend of American public school privatization.
“Save Our Schools” protests led by teachers and students are the norm, and there is a constant battle between the public school system and education reformers determining who should be in control.
Unfortunately, the education reformers are winning by a landslide and privatization is taking the United States by a relentless storm.
In a perfect world for education reformers, schooling is run like a business. Each school is privatized and teachers are only providers while parents shop around for the best charter school possible.
Philadelphia is ground zero for the education reform movement. The film states that after he was elected, former governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett cut an estimated $1 billion for public education. This leaves institutions like South Philadelphia High School with no librarian, limited teachers and custodians, and one school nurse for 1,500 students.
On the other side of Philadelphia, a 12-year-old student from William C. Bryant Elementary School died from an asthma attack and there was no available nurse at her school.
Classes are stuffed to the brim. One powerful scene in the film shows a 9th Grade biology class with close to 70 students in attendance. They study with worn out textbooks and are forced to stand during the lecture. All of these things happen within the first eight minutes of the documentary. Like I said, the film holds back no punches.
Then come the charter schools—private institutions built on privilege. Many charter schools are run strictly from iPads are unwelcoming to students with disabilities or stricken with poverty. Due to the funding they receive from taxes and various celebrities like Bill Gates, charter schools are amazing at marketing, presenting them as schools that produce “better, smarter, students,” potentially luring parents into a financial hole.
What parents are not told is that many charter schools hire non-licensed teachers and there is no proof that they produce better students. Many of them have also been in the news due to fraud and money laundering. Still, they are on the rise.
Next are the scary education models from the education reform movement—vouchers and cyber schools.
Vouchers are essentially scholarships that pay for a student’s tuition with taxpayer dollars. While this may seem fine, most voucher schools are run by churches and non-licensed teachers who use the model to indoctrinate beliefs, such as creationism. Many also perform corporal punishment like paddling.
The cyber school model has students studying at home on a computer. All learning is done online and taught by unexperienced teachers who oversee close to 100 students. The classes are built with minimal effort in mind and classes like physical education are based on yes or no questions like “Did you run today?” Type in “Yes” and you get an A.
Backpack Full of Cash shows a ray of sunshine when touching on New Jersey’s public school system. The state is proof that the public school system can work based on property taxes and funding to every school.
Although, under President Donald Trump education reform is being pushed more and more. The newly elected Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, is known to be a prime advocate for charter schools, vouchers, and cyber schools.
If Trump gets his way, public schooling could be completely erased within the next decade, leaving thousands of teachers and public school buildings abandoned.
Sat., May 27 (7 pm)
Backpack Full of Cash
Art Gallery of Alberta
Ledcor Theatre, $10