We the Parents

A healthy roster of social-activist documentaries have tackled America's public education crisis, most notably Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim's Waiting For Superman. Director James Takata's We the Parents, though, is refracted through a decidedly different prism.

A briskly paced piece of moment-in-time cinema, it's a fascinating look at the new frontier of so-called parent trigger laws, which allow, via petition signatures, 51 percent of parents to basically form a union with control to either shut down their children's place of learning or transform it into a charter school. The first law was passed by the California State Legislature in January, 2010; six additional states, including Texas, Indiana, Ohio and Connecticut, have followed suit, with another 20 states considering similar regulations.

We the Parents throws a warm, loving sunbeam of advocacy on Parent Revolution, a non-profit organization which, eschewing what it deems the outmoded "PTA model" of parental involvement, aggressively touts parents as the largest stakeholder group in the entire education system, and thus seeks to leverage that majority share into political power, through means that involve as much cudgeling as cajoling. A good portion of We the Parents charts the grassroots, community organizing efforts of the group as they first recruit and then help support parents for the law's debut test case, involving failing McKinley Middle School in Compton.

While it's definitely a movie which sides with this somewhat radical upending of conventional power structure and command, Parent Revolution's Ben Austin and many others — including parents themselves, most of whom, existing on the socioeconomic margins, have been cowed too long by the political process — speak movingly as to the goals and larger possibilities of the parent trigger law. Also, Takata does include interviews with figures from McKinley's administration, who obviously stood in dissent to the reform efforts.

In this most immediate sense, there's a gripping, social-legal thriller aspect to the film, as one wants to see how things pan out for these families. (Spoiler alert: signature verification technicalities and other legal pushback ensues, putting matters back in the courts, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise.) More robust dissent and a research-oriented point-of-view may likely have given We the Parents greater depth and dimensionality, but with the first schools transformed under this new law opening their doors this very week in California, Takata's film represents a timely, relevant snapshot of a cause in active motion. Following its local engagement at the Laemmle Music Hall, We the Parents opens in New York City at the Quad Cinema on September 6. For more information on the film, click here to visit its website. (Go For Broke Pictures, unrated, 60 minutes)


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