Backpack Full of Cash: Is Charter Schools Building or Destroying Better Education in America?

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Matt Damon, Backpack Full of Cash, 4:41

This scene of a shabby school crest appears at the beginning of Backpack Full of Cash. The bright red crest containing the words “wisdom,” “industry,” and “initiative” seems still reminding the audience about the glorious past that the school had. However, the school crest now was covered with dappled marks, implying the difficulties that the school is facing. The person standing at the left corner of the crest is the principal of South Philadelphia High. He stands still but alone, trying to support a public school that struggles at the cliff of broken and protect the vulnerable students who want to receive a decent education from the public school system. This scene at the beginning of the documentary movie heralds the main topic of the film: how does the school reform of privatizing public schools build inequality within the public school system and restrict venerable students by plundering resources from public schools to Cater schools.

This scene is right behind a direct quote from Rhonda Brownstein, the executive director of The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania. According to Brownstein, the public school system in Philadelphia is “ground zero”: “the school reform movement is happening very rapidly in Philadelphia and leading the public school system into a very difficult financial crisis” (Matt Damon, Backpack Full of Cash, 4:02). This shabby school crest followed seems to present her words vividly. Moreover, after the school crest scene, the filmmakers present scenes including hurried students entered the school, crowed students in the hallways, hardworking students carefully taking notes during the class, to show a group of vulnerable students who are fighting for their future but are restricted by their limited resources. Therefore, by using this scene at the beginning to lead the presentation of financial crisis in South Philadelphia High, the filmmakers successfully portray the difficulties that public schools are struggling to overcome and make a solid foundation for the future presentation of the theme of the movie: Charter schools did not prove the failure of the public school system as people expected; instead, privatizing public schools implicitly creates inequality in the school system by pillaging the public resources from public schools, consequently causing the failure in the public school system.

However, the movie does not present the views from students and teachers in the Charter schools and local governors who support public school privatization. In other words, as a movie that coitize the process of privatizing public school, Backpack Full of Cash did not give Charter Schools an opportunity to argue for themselves. The only quotations from the Charter School principals are about the resources the school has. Therefore, if the movie can also present the perspectives from people inside or support the Charter schools, the audience may form a more comprehensive understanding about privatizing public schools and its influences on the public school system.



Mondale, S. (Producer), & Aronow, V. (Director). (2016). Backpack Full of Cash [Motion picture]. (Available from