Matt Damon: ‘We would never let businessmen design warheads. Why would you cut out educators when you’re designing education policy?’

epa04034875 US actor and founder of 'Water.org' Matt Damon speaks as he receives the Crystal Award ahead of the opening of the 44th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), in Davos, Switzerland, 21 January 2014. The overarching theme of the meeting, which will take place from 22 to 25 January, is 'The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business'. EPA/LAURENT GILLIERON
Matt Damon at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month. (Laurent Gillieron/EPA)

Matt Damon just had an online conversation with Reddit users to promote his new movie, “The Monuments Men,” and he touched on a number of topics, including his opposition to standardized test-based school reform and the exclusion of teachers from the shaping of education policy.

The actor has been a vocal defender of teachers and public education. He appeared at a 2011 Washington, D.C. rally by educators called Save Our Schools  and delivered a smart speech about teachers and public education. (You can read his speech and see a video here.) Before making that speech, Damon, along with his mother, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an early childhood education expert and professor emerita at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., gave some interviews to reporters, including one (see video below) that turned into a heated exchange with a reporter and a cameraman from Reason TV. It was this interview that a Reddit user referred to while talking to Damon online.

The user, Join You In The Sun, wrote:

As someone who was raised by two professors and married an art teacher, I can’t thank you enough for your defense of teachers in this video. Do you remember how this discussion got started with the interviewer? And I have to ask (since I don’t see it that often), why defend teachers so passionately?

Damon responded: 

 I spoke to them at a rally for public school teachers a few years ago. My mom’s a professor and she’s become increasingly concerned, as have a lot of teachers, about the way policy is being designed in this country. It’s being designed by a bunch of people who aren’t teachers.

They talk about accountability, but they’re measuring with these standardized tests, which I believe in my heart they will start fading out. It just demonstrably does not work. No Child Left Behind does not work.

I’ve always believed that they have to invite teachers into the discussion to help design policy. We would never let business men design warheads, why would you cut out educators when you’re designing education policy?

This was for one of those libertarian Web sites, and they had an attack question planned about tenure. Diane Ravitch was there, she’s a huge figure in education and she jumped in and just set them straight about what having tenure meant. It just basically means you have the right to be represented, and have your side of something heard if someone is trying to get rid of you.

But in terms of education policy, I think that far too much emphasis has been put on these tests. You’re going to get teachers teaching to the test and you’re not actually giving them the leeway to do their jobs. People get tired of hearing about Finland, but they do it better than anyone, and when you look at how, it’s very simple. They have very highly trained teachers. Fifty percent of teachers here quit within five years. We just send these kids to these six-week Teach for America training courses and expect them to perform well. In Finland, one out of 10 people get into these teaching colleges. You have to go through the entire program and come out with a masters, and then you’re put in a room with another teacher and a class size no bigger than 20. It’s highly regarded; people don’t quit. Finland kicks our ass on any metric. They keep the class size down, they’re aggressive about confronting poverty.

We have the resources here. It’s just whether we’re willing to focus on it.

You can read the rest of the Reddit conversation here.

Incidentally, before Damon gave his 2011 speech, people in the Obama administration made several attempts to reach him to arrange for him to meet with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, whose policies Damon opposes. Sources said at the time that Duncan was willing to meet Damon at the airport when he flew into the Washington region and talk to him on the drive into the city. Damon declined all of the requests.

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The interview referred to by the Reddit user:

Damon’s speech at the SOS rally in 2011:

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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