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February 7, 2011

Movie Review: The Lottery (2010)

When Jeff gave me this movie, I knew it would be tough to watch and should have known it would be tough to review. Anything that involves the failures of our government, especially surrounding the well-being of kids, gets me upset. I avoided it for a long time. For some reason, I finally just popped it in. I was right about my reaction. What I didn't anticipate was another subject that makes me boil. It's one that will cause half of you to bail on me by my third paragraph. I'm also expecting a few unkind words. I'm even going to upset some of the CHC crew, but here goes.

Buy The Lottery on DVD

The Lottery focuses on a small group of charter schools in New York City that many parents are dying to get their kids into. According to state laws, if demand outweighs supply, a lottery must be held to decide which children will be able to enroll. While the teachers, parents of current students and even President Obama sing the praises of charter schools, one group opposes them. That group is NYC's teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers.

This is where I will lose many of you. My personal experiences with unions have not been positive. In Chicago, I worked for an alarm company that was non-union. Union electricians would often threaten to shut down job sites we were on and threats of violence were lobbed from time to time. One employee's car was vandalized. Why? Because he didn't belong to their club. I'm currently a mail carrier, and the union that governs my position, basically substitute rural carrier, has no interest in those at my level. They'll take our money, but that's about it. I don't pay the dues. I never have, and I don't use the meager services of the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association. I'm seeing others in my position who are deciding to opt out.
This is not to say that unions don't have their place. To cast all as bad is just as flawed as it would be to cast them all as good. Just like the businesses they work with, unions are run by people, and people are flawed. People make mistakes, people act selfishly and people fail. Some unions have lost their way, and one such union is UFT.

I understand that unions are designed to protect their members, but when the members are bad at their jobs, they shouldn't be saved. The NYC public schools boast 58% of students reading below grade level. That is disgusting. With that statistic, you'd think someone would get fired. Unfortunately, only 10 out of 55,000 teachers were fired the year of that failure rate.That makes no sense to me. If someone at McDonald's served 58% of the orders incorrectly, they wouldn't last two weeks. The UFT protects those who cannot, and that creates kids that cannot.

Conversely, the students of Harlem Success Academy do very well. One mother stated that her five-year-old HSA student was teacher her public school educated eighth grader how to read. She was one of many. Part of the fight is taken to a zoning hearing, where Eva Moskowitz, founder of HSA, attempts to move one of her schools into the building that used to house a public school. In an attempt to stop the move, the UTF hires ACORN staff to protest the move with chants of "not in our neighborhood." The surrounding sheeple join the fray. I'm not sure what they didn't want in their neighborhood. Quality education? A chance for their kids to do well? Ignorance breeds fear, and fear breeds violence, even if it's only verbal.

In the hearings, Moskowitz is calm, together and classy. She throws out facts and numbers and is greeted with rhetoric. My favorite part is the people of Harlem telling her that she can't come into their neighborhood with her arrogance and tell them what they should be doing. Moskowitz actually grew up in Harlem, worked there and was raising her family there. Even a city councilwoman questioned what this white woman was saying. It was disgusting and racist, and wouldn't be tolerated the other way around.

In the end, the ominously named United Federation of Teachers succeeded at what they do best. They prevented children from getting a quality education. As a parent whose daughter is a couple years from school, I was disturbed to see that people who claim to care enough about children that they want to educate them only care about themselves and their own jobs. Like religion or politics, union loyalty can have an ugly side, and we definitely see it in The Lottery.

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