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Matt Damon – Public School Hero Turned Hypocrite?

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Matt Damon giving a riveting speech defending public schools and teachers in 2011 in Washington DC at the Save Our Schools Rally

Recently, A-list actor (and personally one of my favorites) Matt Damon announced in an interview that him and his wife have decided to enroll their daughters in private schools rather than the public schools of LAUSD.

Naturally, the entire ed reform crowd was all over this news like the ed revolutionaries (it’s what I like to call the “anti-reform” crowd) were all over the news about Tony Bennett’s cheating scandal.

In 2011, Matt Damon gave a beautiful speech at the “Save Our Schools” rally in Washington DC. He has been widely known by the education community as a public school advocate that is very much opposed to the ridiculous reforms by corporations and greedy politicians, such as charters, vouchers, and high stakes accountability. A graduate of public schools himself, as well as a son of a public school teacher and professor, he understands the importance of a free, democratic, locally controlled, well-funded, fully-staffed, and well-rounded public education.

So naturally, every reformy immediately scrambled to call out Damon on his hypocrisy… on Twitter. Here are some examples:

I wasn’t really going to say anything about this… but it made me the kind of angry where I really just laugh nonstop because these attacks are so hilarious, desperate, and… hypocritical. But I understand where they’re coming from. Lord knows they’ve needed a break during these past few months of utter failure and embarrassment.

Matt Damon isn’t a hypocrite. If that’s what you’re going to take away from all this, then you’re not looking hard enough.

First of all, his choice, as so eloquently put by blogger @Didymath on Teach For Us, is “more personal than political.” Politicizing people’s personal choices is not only a desperate move, but also pretty hypocritical (Mr. Bush, how would you like it if I brought up where YOUR kids go to school?)

Second of all, the lessons to take from wealthy actor’s and public school supporter’s decision are not that he’s a privileged hypocrite or that school choice is a great thing.

It’s a lesson that maybe we should start making real changes in public education that make public schools resemble the schools that the privileged send their kids to (hint: NO high stakes testing and more teacher respect/autonomy).

It’s a lesson that maybe we should start investing in smaller class sizes, more libraries, better infrastructure, healthy food options, and wrap-around services like counseling and healthcare.

It’s a lesson that if a public school supporter like Damon decides to ultimately send his kids to private schools in the heavily “reformed” city of Los Angeles, public education needs a lot of support, especially against these corporate “ed reform” attacks.

It’s a lesson that the best choice is the choice to not need a choice at all.

Matt Damon advocates for a public school system that does not exist anymore (thanks to the past few years of digression brought to you by education reformies). Who can blame him if he wants to do the best for his kids? What is so wrong with looking out for your kids and then simultaneously fighting for the belief that other people’s kids should have access to the same education as yours? And don’t tell me he doesn’t believe the latter just because he doesn’t support corporate reform. If you opened your eyes at all, you’d know reform policies like school “choice” and “accountability” have hurt more students than it’s helped.

Damon believes in the best idea this country’s ever had: that every student has the right to a great public education. This is exactly why he opposes reform, which turns education into a business with a few winners and many losers.

Third of all, this isn’t even hypocrisy in the slightest. Here’s a beautiful excerpt from a post by Jersey Jazzman about what hypocrisy really is:

What’s hypocritical is for Chris Christie to say that public schools spend too much, and then send his own kids to private schools that spend a fortune.

What’s hypocritical is for Barack Obama to bribe states into using top-down, test-based teacher evaluation systems while sending his own kids to schools that do not engage in that practice.

What’s hypocritical is for Bill Gates or Merryl Tisch to create a culture of test-based accountability when their own children go to schools that eschew that very culture.

What’s hypocritical is for Michelle Rhee and Kevin Huffman to push policies that deprive schools of necessary resources while sending their child to a private school that is more than adequately resourced.

And what’s hypocritical is for champions of “choice” to condemn the choices of people who they will not listen to and work with to create a stronger public school system for all.

Steve Zimmer’s Angry Rant about Class Size – A Must Watch

http://lausd.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=58 

(Skip to 05:38:10 and watch him burn his opponents at 05:40:10) 

“You just get to give more individualized, personalized attention. You get to know the stories, the voices, the history, when there are less students in your classroom. That just is.”

 

He then takes out printouts of charter schools’ websites and says that if the audience still doesn’t trust his experience as a teacher, they should look at the choices parents have made. Each charter school boasts class size on their front page. 22:1. 20:1. even 12:1.

Earlier he also takes brilliantly about the blasphemy of dividing “adults issues” and “kids issues”. Students’ issues are everyone’s issue. Period.

I’ve never seen anyone so eloquent yet still so fiercely passionate during an angry rant. But that’s what the state of education reform has pushed dedicated teachers and advocates like Steve Zimmer to, I suppose. I’m so glad he’s on the Board, so excited to work with him in the future.

I was actually really scared of working in LA; the dominance and blind support of corporate reform is very overwhelming. Monica Garcia is the president of the Board of Education and she is a full-on supporter of corporate reform and charter schools. And John Deasy, the Superintendent is also aggressive with his reforms, and although I believe his intentions are good, he’s falling victim to the pressure of corporate reform.

So, for me, watching this was incredibly comforting. Hope to find more quality people like this in the field!

10 ways to spend $30+ million

LAUSD recently announced that they would be purchasing $30 million worth of Apple iPads for its students.

But wait, there’s more…

Here’s what the LAUSD board of Ed envisions their classrooms to look like by 2014.

The district says it is spending $678 per iPad. That’s more than the regular price of one, but these iPads come equipped with learning and educational software. Sounds great right?

Except that there are over 650,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Excuse my lack of Common Core upbringing, but isn’t that like… almost $500 million?

Oh wait, I see. The $30 million is just phase 1 of their “let’s-spend-money-on-things-to-make-our-district-look-great-without-implementing-real-change-and-solutions.” In the fall, only 30,000 students will get iPads. They’re the test group for whether or not they should spend millions more on giving the rest of the district this cutting edge technology.

Don’t get me wrong. I love iPads just as much as the next person. I prefer Apple to Microsoft any day. I do think technology is a great tool in the classroom. And I do it’s important to prepare students for the digital age and instill technological literacy.

But there are other ways they could go about this, and a lot of other important things that they could fund with this giant amount of money. Classroom collaboration and active discussions and experiential learning are also very important. Technology is great but it limits student interaction when students are in front of a screen most of the time.

We ought to loosen restrictions on schools (ahem high-stakes standardized testing ahem), give teachers training and tools that allows them to creatively teach well-rounded curriculum to students that not only know how to use an iPad, but can also carry a discussion with classmates, communicate an original idea, fight for a cause, and produce valuable, original work in any area of education and life. 

With that said, here’s a list of what else they could use all that money for:

  1. Creating “cutting edge” computer labs at each school
  2. Building art, music, and physical education programs to give students well-rounded educations and more options
  3. Growing social justice and civic learning curricula in schools
  4. Renovating school facilities and creating an exciting environment for students to learn
  5. Funding more field trips, interactive workshops, service learning programs, extracurricular programs
  6. Rehiring teachers who were laid off
  7. Providing meaningful training for teachers (preferably training from a person who has been in front of a classroom before) and implementing meaningful evaluation systems that help improve rather than punish teachers
  8. Reducing class sizes
  9. Increasing teacher salaries
  10. Removing furlough days