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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.

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First topic I’ll tackle: The “Other” Education Movement

First off, I want to say that I feel really bad for not posting in a while. Things have been really hectic at home, and I could barely find a sizable chunk of time to just write for myself. When I did sit down to write, I was interrupted or had to put it off… and nothing just ever got done. 

But, now I have re-balanced my time and plan to start right up again, beginning with a topic that I think needs to be addressed before any others. Before I can establish where I stand, I want to be clear on where I DON’T stand. Before I can get to figuring out solutions, I have to fully understand the problem. Here is a huge chunk of the problem:

The Educorporate Reform/Deform/Rheeform/Rephorm Movement

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Michelle Rhee, the Dolores Umbridge of Education and the leader of the Education Reform Movement.

Gosh, where do I begin? I’m going to do a string of posts on this, but I guess I’ll start with a bullet point list of what the education reform movement is really about.

[Linked in each bullet point is an article to get you started… of course there are tons of articles and evidence for each one. Also, if you haven’t done so already, I really suggest you check out this handy “Reform-to-English” Dictionary. It’s basically an expanded list of the Ed Reform movement’s bullshit]

My first post on this topic is going to directly address people who are in my position.

A letter to future teachers and present education advocates

All I ask of you is this:

Please, please, please take a second look at the current education reform movement being led by StudentsFirst CEO Michelle Rhee, and championed by big names like Bill Gates, Wendy Kopp (Teach for America CEO), and Arne Duncan (current Secretary of Education appointed by Obama).

Take it from someone who used to be a Students for Education Reform member, used to dream about working for StudentsFirst, joining Teach for America, and running my own charter school.

Usually, I would suggest that two sides of the education debate put aside their differences to put students’ interest first. Usually, I would promote what I support rather than bash what I oppose. But what I oppose is moving education in the wrong direction. What I oppose is making it difficult for me to promote what I support. What I oppose is gaining support from cover-ups and lies, and tricking so many (including myself) into believing their bullshit.

Before, I was under the false impression that this was the change our country needed. I believed that doing all those things I just mentioned would help students and the education system. 

Don’t be fooled by fancy, charge rhetoric and the growing presence of their names in the media. Corporate money is fueling this campaign, and the only beneficiaries are those at the top. When the movement started, I joined it because it had good intentions and set clear goals on how to solve the issue of education. Now, actually seeing the disappointing results of this movement and digging deeper into their motives has led me to become completely disillusioned, if not horrified.

All I ask is that you dig underneath all that fancy looking brochures, websites, and appearances and discover what the education reform movement is really doing to our public schools, our students, our teachers, our communities.

After looking at all sides of the situation, if you still stand by the EdReform movement, then by all means, pick up on the past that I abandoned.

But I just want you to know that there is another side to this debate. Another solution that actually listens to students, shows genuine concern for the future of our education system, stands behind teachers, and believes in bettering public education for all. 

Education reformers are on the wrong side of history. They are doing nothing to improve education, and they are reaping all the benefits. Real solutions require full collaboration from the bottom up, not the top down (in this case, they don’t even reach the bottom). Advocates for education justice are championing real solutions, real change.

All I ask is that you take a second look.

I’ll end with a quote by Diane Ravitch:

“The future belongs to all the students who understand that public education belongs to them as a democratic right to build their future. [Education] must not become a plaything for Wall Street and billionaires, nor a stepping stone for politicians, nor a profit center for entrepreneurs.”