Coming out of last week’s Save Our Schools Rally, Matt Damon has emerged as a folk hero to teachers everywhere. But why?
Damon’s outrage in defense of his mother is noble, but does that make it accurate? And, to be clear, I don’t think Matt Damon should be expected to be an expert on Education Policy – but, since he’s being treated as one by his supporters, his views must be critiqued. Let’s look at his comments (now viral) in three sections.
1) At the beginning of the video, the reporter asks Damon about incentives for teachers to work hard. Basically, she implies that teachers will not perform well if they aren’t scared of being fired. The reporter’s question has little grounding in what we know about the science of motivation. Damon rightly shoots down the question. Fear of being fired will not improve our teaching force. However, Damon doesn’t address an important question: What will?
2) The middle of Damon’s statement really highlights one of my greatest frustrations with the debate about educational reform. When challenged that teachers aren’t doing well enough, Damon responds that teachers are good and passionate people. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. Teachers may enter the profession for the right reasons, but what are we doing to ensure they become expert instructors?
3) Full disclosure: The last part really drives me nuts. People seem most excited about the fact that Matt Damon really gave it to the camera man that asked, “but aren’t 10% of teachers bad?” (Actually, it was a better question than the one asked by the reporter.) Damon’s response: “Well, maybe you’re a shitty camera man…I don’t know.” The Save Our Schools movement really loses its credibility (with me) when they refuse to acknowledge poor performers.
The progress we need to experience in the coming years will not come from defending teachers at all costs. It will not come from explaining that poverty is the real reason for the Achievement Gap. It will come from developing structures to support teachers, from diverse contexts, in becoming great – through improvements in talent recruitment, mentoring, and training.
I would encourage Mr. Damon (who apparently – by being related to a teacher – has more credibility than most people working in the “corporate reform movement”) to use his financial resources to partner with a school to create a model. I tend to agree with many of the principles outlined by the SOS movement, but I think strategic execution of those principals in practice would be far more powerful than the righteous indignation of a famous actor.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
PS – I’ll be back to writing about Reach in the near future, but, in these challenging times, the larger ed reform context can’t be ignored.