Matt Damon spoke at a Save Our Schools rally, and railed against the policy of punishing teachers when their students perform poorly on standardized tests. Damon has never been shy about his politics, and in the above clip, Anderson Cooper is not particularly shy about his love for Matt Damon. Cooper, however, didn’t show any of Damon’s speech, instead he focused on a short interview afterward with libertarian network, Reason.tv. The Reason anchor argued for merit-based education policy by comparing it to acting:
“In acting, there isn’t job security, right? There is an incentive to work hard and be a better actor. Because you want to have a job, so why isn’t it like that for teachers?”
Damon spat back: “You think job insecurity is what makes me work hard?”
Matt Damon then went on a short rant about the entire mentality that produces that line of thinking:
“You take this MBA-style thinking, right? It’s the problem with ed policy right now: this intrinsically paternalistic view of problems that are much more complex than that.
“A teacher wants to teach. I mean why else would you take a sh*t salary and really long hours and do that job unless you really want to do it?” Damon added.
MBA-style thinking is a good way to put our current education policy. There’s a desire to give everything the Moneyball treatment by finding the people who do their job the most efficiently and promoting them while firing the least efficient people. That in itself isn’t a bad thing, but Matt Damon’s larger point is against using standardized tests as the ultimate measuring stick for schools. While the libertarian reporter is making an incentives-based argument, standardized tests create bad incentives: teachers are encouraged to teach how to pass the test, which may or may not include the fundamental concepts behind what they are learning. The excellent education blog Dewey to Delpit goes into this discussion at some length (full disclosure: the author is a good friend, but his (mostly defunct) blog is well worth a read).
We all have a stake in fixing our education system, and really, the argument between Matt Damon and the anchor barely scratches the surface. It is complex, however, and before seizing hold of an opinion, I recommend doing some research so that this doesn’t just devolve into another partisan fight.