Here's the backstory: The Philadelphia School District -- in turmoil over its budget woes and last week's vote by the School Reform Commission to cancel its labor contract with teachers -- thought it could be a good idea for a "parent appreciation" event that featured a teacher-union-bashing movie called "Won't Back Down." Subtle, huh? (Also, arguably the worst abuse of a Tom Petty song ever...but I digress.) One of the sponsors was Comcast Internet Essentials -- whose parent has a complicated history with ed reform.
So about a dozen activists from the Philadelphia Student Union showed up last night to shut that thing down. Not only did they pull it off, but they infuriated an SRC member (who, in a remarkable coincidence, works for Comcast) at the event, Sylvia Simms. She's captured on video (watch it below) yelling at the protesters, but her words are inaudible. Students claim they she screamed that the demonstrators go to "failing schools" (how's that for a loaded statement?) and that they should go to jail.
UPDATE: Simms told the Inquirer today that students mischaracterized her remarks, although it's still not clear exactly what was said. "It wasn't like that," she said told the paper. "I've noticed we have a lot of failing schools. It's my job to try to fix as many schools as I can."
Civil disobedience is always a controversial tool, since usually it means inconveniencing others to make a point. But it's a powerful strategy when the status quo is unacceptable and there are no other outlets -- and it's a rich tactic throughout American history. The fearless students who risk arrest and disciplinary action -- because they want grown-ups to take their education seriously, and not treat it as a pawn in their political games -- aren't failing. They are learning to think and to fight for themselves. It's a shame that Sylvia Simms' idea of a successful school is one that only produces cable-TV-watching sheep.