Matt Damon rallies teachers and decries tests

Actor Matt Damon rallied teachers Saturday at a White House protest. (AP Image.)

Actor Matt Damon rallied teachers Saturday at a White House protest. (AP Image.)

I didn’t want the weekend to pass without something from the Save Our Schools rally in Washington Saturday where 5,000 teachers protested the testing frenzy in American schools.

Among the speakers was actor Matt Damon whose mother is a professor of early childhood education. Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post Answer Sheet blog posted Damon’s speech. Here is part of it:

I had incredible teachers. As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all come from how I was parented and taught.

And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success — none of these qualities that make me who I am … can be tested.

I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that’s true. But it’s more than that. My teachers were empowered to teach me. Their time wasn’t taken up with a bunch of test prep — this silly drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning. No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. They were allowed to be teachers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point. I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said, ‘My kid ain’t taking that. It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it’ll just make him nervous.’ That was in the ’70s when you could talk like that. I shudder to think that these tests are being used today to control where funding goes.

I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.

I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that. This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can’t imagine how demoralized you must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me.

So the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself called “overpaid;” the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything. … Please know that there are millions of us behind you.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

120 comments Add your comment

FBT

August 1st, 2011
12:34 am

What is an alternative to testing?
Not all teachers are like the ones Mr. Damon remembers from his school days. I may have had one similar to the teachers he describes during my entire K-12 experience.

Blythinian

August 1st, 2011
1:22 am

Testing is fine— STANDARDIZED, multiple choice, fill in the bubble testing has been the downfall of education in the United States. I know this because I am from the very beginnings of it– I remember learning how to fill in those bubbles with my # 2 pencils right along with the teachers who thought it was a wonderful new thing in 1979– Supposedly it would make grading a snap for them so they would have more time to spend teaching us. (remember when all the kids in the class sniffed the warm just mimeographed (sp?) papers before we set about doing our math problems on them.)

I have had two children graduate from high school in the past few years– both with stupendous Standardized testing scores— both smart enough to figure out the most likely RIGHT answer from the 4 options they were given, even if they didnt remember squat about the question.

My daughter scored the highest on the SAT from her graduating class, but was offered no scholarship and won no award because her GRADES were low from lack of motivation. Neither of them are going to college. Neither of them is motivated to expand their knowledge. Neither of them takes learning to heart. They dont understand the thrill of really grasping a subject matter and yearning to explore all one can find about it. They learned the bare minimum they had to learn to pass benchmark tests, fill in the blank exams , the Georgia Graduation test, CRCT’s.,etc… They had no joy in learning and considered their presence in school a great opportunity for socialization — and a way for their teachers to acquire a paycheck. It saddens me that teachers no longer have the time to make learning interesting and fun because the have to cover x amount of possible questions to assure that z percent of students pass the standardized tests in order for them to keep their job and their school to ‘make AYP’ (read- keep its funding). No wonder companies keep moving the jobs they fill to overseas—- in a job, it isnt a choice of a, b, c, or d. Its just right or wrong. — PERIOD.

Dr. John Trotter

August 1st, 2011
4:21 am

It hasn’t just been “a horrible decade”; it’s been a horrible last 25+ years…since the promulgation of A Nation At Risk in 1983. This whipped up all the states into a frenzy. My calling for a “[q]uel[ing] [of] the standardized testing mania” in the first publication of The Teacher’s Advocate! magazine in 1995 (when MACE was launched) was not a reaction to the heretofore No Child Left Behind; this federal legislation hadn’t even been conceived or launched. My reaction was to the stupidity and the banality of the standardized testing mandates in Georgia’s Quality Basic Education Act (QBE). In 1986 when I was running for the State House, I actually campaigned against QBE when invariably all of the politicians in Georgia was lapping it up like a Great Dane laps his chunks of meaty tenders. I knew then that it was going to be a disaster. Uh…has anyone been paying attention to what is going on in the Georgia schools? Massive systematic cheating and a restrictive, narrow, boring, and test-driven curriculum. Oh well, I guess that MACE and I aren’t so “crazy” after all. Ha! We have railed against QBE and NCLB from the Jump Street and without wavering or equivocation. If you don’t believe, check things out for yourself (and especially visit the old magazines in the Archive section). >>>

http://www.theteachersadvocate.com

http://www.georgiateachersspeakout.com

By the way, thanks, Matt! I enjoy your movies, especially Good Will Hunting. I appreciate the Matt Damons of the world, and I cannot seem to help but to be totally put out with the Michelle Rhees, the Mark Elgarts, the Arne Duncans, the Rod Paiges, and the Beverly Halls of the plastic and money-driven educational world today.

Dr NO

August 1st, 2011
7:02 am

YES!! More movie stars giving free advice is precisely what is needed!!

Matt…You Rock!

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

August 1st, 2011
7:04 am

What statement about our nation’s public school systems’ efficacy in developing critical citizenship among our population is made when a celebrated actor’s opinions about an educational subject of some complexity receives serious consideration in, and influences, the popular debate?

Middle School Teacher

August 1st, 2011
7:06 am

Kudos to Matt Damon. He is right on target, and it is now the time for all teachers to step up to the plate and denounce the ridiculous policies that overburden education and turn off our students.

teacher&mom

August 1st, 2011
7:47 am

Here’s a little more information from this weekend’s event from one of the organizers: Anthony Cody:

http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2011/07/save_our_schools_rocks_the_cap.html

btw: Arne Duncan contacted the organizers on Wed. and invited them to privately meet with him before the march. They politely refused but offered to meet with him after the march. The group reached out to Duncan in preceding months before the march and he did not respond until the day before the march.

Here’s a link to the speech Duncan gave to the group and Anthony Cody’s response:
http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2011/07/we_are_in_washington_to_save_o.html

Oh not again

August 1st, 2011
7:52 am

I would be a lot more interested in his mom’s statements than in his. He is an ACTOR, for crying out loud. Aren’t people on this blog always complaining about the surfeit of opinions by non-educators? Can you get any further from an educator than an actor? Oh, yeah, Tony Danza and his “work” in education are exemplars of that attitude that “anyone can teach.”

Lee

August 1st, 2011
8:03 am

Everyone decries the standardized test as the bane of education, but conveniently ignore the underlying reasons of how things got to this point.

…and the number one reason is the politically correct pathology that says everyone is equal and demands equal outcomes.

Until this issue is addressed, nothing will change.

Dr NO

August 1st, 2011
8:03 am

“and turn off our students.”

Yes, the students must be “turned on.”

When I attended school it wasnt a question of being turned on or off. But be assured ones parents would do the “turning on” when the failing grades arrived.

movie mojo

August 1st, 2011
8:04 am

Do what matt damon says about education. he’s a movie star (with a ton of money) and his mom was a teacher. That combo alone deserves special recognition in DC. Will he testify before a Congressional committee with his expertise?

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Dr NO

August 1st, 2011
8:07 am

In an aside. Clayton County had a mass celebration/hamburger cookout this weekend to celebrate their mediocrity. Instead of an F they now have a D-

Im happy for them!

www.honeyfern.org

August 1st, 2011
8:14 am

Here is where he went to high school: http://www.cpsd.us/crls/about/index.html

Not a ton of schools structured like this, and yet this structure is precisely what we need. I also had two teachers in my K-12 career that moved me like his did, and only two in the following six years of college (BA and MA).

so tired of the negativity...yawn...

August 1st, 2011
8:41 am

Blythinian

August 1st, 2011
1:22 am——— does not sound as if the school nor the teachers were the problem, parents DO play a role:
“Dr NO , August 1st, 2011, 8:03 am When I attended school it wasnt a question of being turned on or off. But be assured ones parents would do the “turning on” when the failing grades arrived.”
my personal point here: parents must take ownership of their children’s education as well.

marie

August 1st, 2011
8:44 am

While I agree with Matt Damon that standardized tests do not predict a student’s success, I believe that they do have a place in our educational system. My children were fortunate to go to good public schools, where they had some very fine teachers who encouraged a love of learning. They performed well on standardized tests, and are achieving in their own individual ways. Unfortunately, not all schools have proactive leadership/teachers/parents; these schools absolutely need standards to help guide them in the right direction.
I don’t know what the perfect formula is for success in education. Those who have options re: where their children attend school are extremely fortunate. We need to establish standards across the country, not just in GA, so that all students are afforded a quality education. Society truly benefits from an educated public.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

redweather

August 1st, 2011
9:08 am

So how the heck do we determine if a teacher helps his or her students fall in love with a subject? How do you quantify that in the short term? And please note that Matt Damon is now an adult. Did he feel the same way about his teachers when he was a teen? Chances are he didn’t no matter what he says or thinks today.

Here’s another thing, no teacher no matter how gifted a communicator is going to turn on all students. Indeed, a student may be turned on to a subject and excel in it in spite of the teacher’s methods.

Constantly carping about the wrongheadedness of standardized tests is a cop-out. Teachers use it as an excuse and so do students and their parents.

Th bottom line is education happens when students participate. Sometimes they will have a teacher who makes participating fun (see Ron What’s-his-name), sometimes they won’t. There is no way around that. Life is not always fun, so why does school have to be?

A Conservative Voice

August 1st, 2011
9:11 am

Nothing meaningful will be accomplished to turn our school systems around unless/until we get mad enough to tell the US Department of Non-Education that they can take their policies and stick ‘em where the sun don’t shine. Folks, they’ve ruined our educational systems……wake up before it’s too late…….Nathan Deal, grow a pair and save the Great State Of Georgia, please!!!!!

Dedicatedandtired

August 1st, 2011
9:17 am

I wish I had more parents in my school district and teachers at my school who had the #%LLS to say, my child will not take the crcts end of story. I would like all of the parents in my child’s 5 th grade class to make that announcement on day one, so the teacher could feel free to teach. Guess what, I bet the kids would actually blow the doors off the test when the were ultimately forced to take it.

redweather

August 1st, 2011
9:22 am

Teachers are free to teach whether students must take the CRCT or not. Do away with the CRCT and that will still be true. With or without the CRCT, some teachers will do their job well and some won’t. With or without the CRCT, some students will do their job well and some won’t.

Who is this clown

August 1st, 2011
9:24 am

Nice for Matt to donate several million $$$ to the teachers fund. Oh, he didn’t? I see, he just wants everyone else too.

Amazing

August 1st, 2011
9:27 am

Damon raises some valid points. But, the answer is not to eliminate standardized testing. We keep looking for a single silver bullet to solve our woes nuch like the debt debate in Washington. The reality is to improve our education will require a multi faceted apporoach that includes but is not limited to:

- Engaged parents who are involved in the educational process of their children at home and in the school
- Use of tests to measure a student’s progress against a set of standards
- Rewarding outstanding teachers (as there are many more of those than we acknowledge)
- Removed the unqualified or non-performing teachers (they get all the attention despite the fact they make up a small minority of the population)
- Eliminate inefficient work processes demanded by school administrators and school boards

v

August 1st, 2011
9:30 am

Matt Damon has his own kids in an exclusive private school! I watched Jon Stewart and Matt Damon on the Daily show talk about what needs to be done for the ‘little people’ and defend the current catastrope that is the government school system. What hypocrites! Standardizes tests are NOT what Matt and Jon are avoiding for their own kids- it is the rotten public schools! This system where the teachers and parents have NO real power to make decisions for the kids is a disaster. Put the power into the hands of parents and teachers! School Choice for everyone! Let teachers fire parents and parents fire teachers. It works great for rich folks like Jon and Matt- but they think we are too stupid or don’t love our kids as much- so they have to make decisions about what is best.

Drag Bunt

August 1st, 2011
9:36 am

Let me get this straight: his mother is a professor of early childhood education and said ” ‘My kid ain’t taking that. It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it’ll just make him nervous.”

Mmmmkay. That might explain why Matt is a college dropout.

BehindEnemyLines

August 1st, 2011
9:45 am

How cute, the actor has an opinion. Why on earth that would carry any weight with anyone other than the starstruck is beyond any reason but hey, at least the AJC gets to use the AP photo of Matty.

Leigh goerts

August 1st, 2011
9:56 am

How about this for rallying teachers? Turn the air conditioning on for the first week of school when teachers are there! This happens every year. As the mother of a middle school teacher, I find this to be an insulting way to treat our teachers on the week where they are lugging materials around and arranging their rooms.

Never happy

August 1st, 2011
9:58 am

So in the previous blog, teacher Ron Clark is not worthy of being listened to because he is so successful that he has his own private school now and he tries too hard to engage students. Now, Matt Damon who flew all night from the west coast to come to the rally is blown off because he is an actor even though his message was 100 percent support for teachers. With these attitudes, it’s no wonder that educators can’t find support. They drive supporters away.

Inman Park Boy

August 1st, 2011
9:58 am

Well, if Hollywood says something, it MUST be true! Happy days are here again!

Sid Farcas

August 1st, 2011
10:06 am

Oh, well if a famous Hollywood actor says that to much testing is unfair then it must be. I mean, the guy has to intelligent because he is from Hollywood and make mega bucks. What a bunch of crapola! Matt, stick to what you do best and leave us in the real world alone.

so tired of the negativity...yawn...

August 1st, 2011
10:23 am

never happy: it is not that educators are not supported. people just say whatever pops in their heads on blogs. do not take it personally. come on, matt damon on education? yes, i mostly agree with what he says, but…. if he isnt donating some cash or a socialogist or teacher or anything other than an actor… it’s funny. period. not wrong, just funny.

so tired of the negativity...yawn...

August 1st, 2011
10:26 am

sociologist, sorry.

KimZ'sPackage

August 1st, 2011
10:34 am

I had a professor ant NGC that taught his son how to take tests. The kid was not overly smart, but at 12 years old he made around a 1280 on the Sat in 1986. a 12 yr old that knew how to get the answer right when he had no idea of the answer. Standardized testing is not helping.

KimZ'sPackage

August 1st, 2011
10:39 am

Leigh goerts
August 1st, 2011
9:56 am

How about this for rallying teachers? Turn the air conditioning on for the first week of school when teachers are there!

The Air runs all summer long. There are people in most schools every day. Please don’t tell me there is no A/C on the weeks the students are not in school. Please you don’t know what you are talking about.

RJ

August 1st, 2011
10:40 am

@Never Happy, I couldn’t have said it better myself. I just don’t get it.

Thanks Maureen for posting this article. It’s great to hear somebody stand up in support of teachers.

KimZ'sPackage

August 1st, 2011
10:45 am

Step one to fixing the schools is to get the GD Government out of the education business. If I hear one more person with a govt. school education call the US a democracy I think I am going to Kill some Liberal Public School teachers. Let parents send their children to the school they choose. Bad schools with bad teachers can be turned into Shelters for the Homeless and the bad teachers can pick-up trash on the side of the roads.

BillM

August 1st, 2011
10:46 am

The education establishment wants more and more money.

Taxpayers and parents want accountability for results.

Teachers fought having parents involved as interference.
Teachers fought evalutation by the principal as too subjective.
Teachers fought merit pay that rewards the best performers as unfair
Teachers are fighting standardized testing as too impersonal.

How would the education establishment propose to be accountable for results?

We are not just parents and taxpayers, we are also experienced with the education establishment ourselves. Each of us had a specific expeirence of education, public or otherwise, that is leading us to have a perspective about the quality and professionalism of education on the ground.

Everytime a parent gives up and chooses private school or home schooling for their children, public education loses. Each one of those is a vote against public education. It seems the ones most concerned about thier children, the ones who are most involved are voting against the public school.

so tired of the negativity...yawn...

August 1st, 2011
10:59 am

kimz- you are a litte…dangerous. please do not go on a rampage, not necessary. for absolutely the one and only time– i do agree with you regarding being able to score well on the previous s.a.t. without really knowing the answers due to what you maybe were or were not taught previously to taking it. but… the sat is not a measure of your intellect, so….

TeacherinGA

August 1st, 2011
11:01 am

“Everytime a parent gives up and chooses private school or home schooling for their children, public education loses. Each one of those is a vote against public education. It seems the ones most concerned about thier children, the ones who are most involved are voting against the public school.”

This is because teachers and students both benefit from private schooling in this regard: Teachers are allowed to teach because students that disrupt the learning of others (behavior problems) get dismissed from the school. Public schools and teachers are forced to take and put up with all who come. This is the BIGGEST problem for public schools versus private schools right now in my opinion.

so tired of the negativity...yawn...

August 1st, 2011
11:06 am

a little, sorry.

www.honeyfern.org

August 1st, 2011
11:15 am

Then, ironically, MDamon has “given up” on public schools by enrolling his kids in a private school, even as he exhorts others to keep their kids in that particular petri dish. Most who can afford it flee as well. Maybe public education will be fixed, maybe not, but very few people want their kids to be guinea pigs while politicians and administrators debate policy and money (instead of students and learning).

Dekalbite@www.honeyfern

August 1st, 2011
11:46 am

“Here is where he went to high school: http://www.cpsd.us/crls/about/index.html

Not a ton of schools structured like this, and yet this structure is precisely what we need. ”

This school is in Massachusetts. Massachusetts has a completely different approach to education so I’d say this is more the norm in that state. It’s not just luck that places Massachusetts public school students head and shoulders above all other states in education. The are the only state that ranks up there with Finland, Singapore, etc.

I noticed that Matt Damons school has a higher pupil-teacher ratio than DeKalb or APS schools. I’ll bet most of the teachers really “teach”. They don’t load the school systems down with non-teaching personnel and administrators and then place them in the teacher count.

Lee

August 1st, 2011
11:59 am

@BillM, Most of us who enrolled our children in private schools didn’t “give up” on public – we were driven out. There is usually a “last straw” event that causes us to say; “To hell with this, it will be worth $xx,xxx per year for a little piece of mind.”

….and once we did, it was like “Holy cow! What a difference!”

SallyB

August 1st, 2011
12:01 pm

Many of you seem to be mocking this actor/former student/human being for speaking out. However, a Matt Damon, someone with a “voice” and a recognition index needs to speak up and out. Don’t know if his joining the fray will attract attention, but , maybe.

Teachers and leaders of organizations of teachers [Dr, Trotter, for example] have been speaking out and begging for the attention and interest of someone with the power to make intelligent, effective changes . And for how lohg? DECADES?

Actors and celebrities grab attention for “causes” in America…..the attention that just isn’t attainable for professors, educators, and the rest of the great masses of the unknown teachers, parents, et al.

If the only ones who command attention are the cheating, the racketeering, and the greedy in the schools, those attempting to hold onto their jobs for which so many do not have the qualifications nor experience, and/or the clowns, money grabbing publishers, those looking for big bucks by developing and selling this and that new bandwagon technique [AMerica's Choice, scripted lessons, etc] , nothing is going to change

BTW, my own children thrived in public schools. Nevertheless, all of my grandchildren are in private school, BUT do not think for one moment that I have given up on public schools. I have just realized that at this time, in this place, most public schools do not and cannot provide the education that America’s children deserve. Won’t go into all the “whys” as they have been posted here over and over.

Really Amazed

August 1st, 2011
12:03 pm

@honeyfern.org, so, so true!!!! We would be one of those parents!! As much as I would love to help fix public education… I am not willing to let my children be the guinea pigs through this mess of teaching to pass a crct. I want my children motivated, challenged and know how to study!!!

Digger

August 1st, 2011
12:18 pm

Who needs school? All our kids plan to either play in the NBA or be a rich actor/rapper. ‘Get rich or die trying’ is today’s motto.

Tonya C.

August 1st, 2011
12:22 pm

Honeyfern:

When I say that, people get offended. Wanting the best for my children is my biggest concern. I want the public school system to improve, but should my children suffer for my ideals?

Gary

August 1st, 2011
12:34 pm

It is not the testing.

Tech

August 1st, 2011
12:42 pm

@Blythinian – your children didn’t get into college b/c of you. stop blaming everything else

so tired of the negativity...yawn...

August 1st, 2011
1:04 pm

say it louder Tech!!