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What I Would Have Said If I Had Gotten More Time

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This is far overdue but in case you’re wondering, here’s what I would have said if I didn’t get cut off… and if I wasn’t so flustered and upset:

…but my main point is: listen to the students. LISTEN TO THE STUDENTS.

Education belongs to the STUDENTS. It is students who are getting the education and it is the students who should have a say in what that education looks like. My biggest problem with reform is that people like you three, who have all this corporate power and money, get to sit up on these physical and political stages and either implement or support policies that affect classrooms and communities that you’ve never stepped into or even bothered to listen to. You haven’t even bothered to listen to these dedicated teachers in these past two hours! I had to fight for my chance to speak because this so-called “conversation” was just two hours of you all defending your views through a series of straw man arguments.

How dare you speak for people you don’t wish to truly listen to?

How dare you talk about the “students’ interests” when you have not listened to what students all over this country are saying?

How dare you talk about “high expectations” when you obviously don’t expect that students are capable of thinking for and fighting for themselves?

How dare you talk about “choice” when you don’t give students any choices in what and how they learn?

How dare you talk about “every student” when you refuse to acknowledge and honor the complex humanity of our each and every student?

How dare you talk about “accountability” when you can’t even hold yourselves accountable for the disastrous effects your reforms have had on communities everywhere?

Students are not data points on a graph you can talk about but never listen to. They are humans with hearts, minds, and stories of their own. They are resilient and beautiful and insightful. They deserve better than high stakes tests that don’t capture their humanity, better than charters that exclude and criminalize certain youth, better than the poverty that creates an opportunity gap well before they begin school, better than limited curriculum that doesn’t allow them to explore other options, better than policies that instill fear and oppress critical thought, better than budgets that leave their schools and classrooms dilapidated and unbearable, better than decisions that are made without their input. We can do better than current reform. We can do much better because our youth deserve much better.

Educational justice will not be achieved by top-down approaches that deliberately silence the voices of those at the bottom. It will not be achieved by policies that exclude, divide, and oppress. It WILL be achieved by PEOPLE working with and fighting with the students who live this everyday reality. The best way to put “Students First” is by listening to them. So walk your talk and start listening. 

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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.