Is Matt Damon Right?

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.

Posted in Ed Reform Notes |


  1. Matt
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    100% agree. It infuriated me that he defended all teachers as if choosing to be in the profession is enough to gain credibility. He asks how the cameraman knows that 10% of teachers are bad. The point the cameraman was trying to make was not the number. The point he was trying to make was that there are bad teachers out there and that something needs to be done about it. He may be a “sh!tty” cameraman, but I there are probably forces that regulate his job. Everyone should be worried that if they do not do a good job at work, there job is in jeopardy.

  2. Beth
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    You captured my frustration with the video perfectly. Thanks for writing this up, Mark.

  3. Posted August 4, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    I completely agree. I personally know teachers that hate teaching and still are there for the money and retirement only. They treat the kids very poorly and cannot be held accountable for it. I also know way more teachers that are there to do the job and do it right. There are definitely bad teachers out there and Mr. Damon disappointed in his generality of the situation. It is a disservice to our children.

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