Passionate, rich public-school advocate peaces out of public schools with his kids
posted at 9:01 pm on August 7, 2013 by Mary Katharine Ham
He’s an actor. And activist. And, so brave. A bravactivist. Who high-tails it from the status quo he enables at the first sign his own children might have to suffer the crappy education the rest of the little people do.
A father of four (three daughters, aged seven, five and three, and a stepdaughter, 15), this summer he is moving his family from New York to Los Angeles, and the challenge of giving them a childhood that remotely resembles the one he enjoyed is about to get even harder.
Choosing a school has already presented a major moral dilemma. “Sending our kids in my family to private school was a big, big, big deal. And it was a giant family discussion. But it was a circular conversation, really, because ultimately we don’t have a choice. I mean, I pay for a private education and I’m trying to get the one that most matches the public education that I had, but that kind of progressive education no longer exists in the public system. It’s unfair.” Damon has campaigned against teachers’ pay being pegged to children’s test results: “So we agitate about those things, and try to change them, and try to change the policy, but you know, it’s a tough one.”
I, like Damon, am a product of public schools and very much value the education I got in them. It wasn’t always good, but I had parents who had resources and willingness to supplement at home, helping the three of us kids through the pedagogical dry spells that inevitably came in between occasional amazing teachers. Perhaps the more important part of the education was social. I met a lot of different people, with totally different family lives than mine, from a range of socioeconomic statuses (the rich were not well-represented as they went to the schools Damon’s kids will attend). And, along the way, I learned that the heartbreaking thing about bad public education that’s allowed to remain bad is that I’m not the person it hurts, because of the aforementioned resources and parents. It was my friends, without those supplements, that weren’t getting what they needed and deserved. It’s for that reason that I’ve been an advocate for educational reform through charter schools and choice. It is powerful to give a kid a ticket to a different environment, and it’s an incentive for public schools to work to keep students by serving them well.
The argument liberals and union activists often make against school choice is that it takes resources from public schools. Even when that’s not the case, as with the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship which earned matching additional funds for D.C.’s public schools, they make that argument. Suddenly the idea of “helping just one kid” is blasphemy. If you can’t change everything for every kid in public schools, it’s wrong to offer the chance at choice to a few of them. But, by the liberal logic, aren’t kids like Damon’s just as important a resource for public schools? Kids with involved parents who agitate for change? I sympathize with his desire to put his kids where he knows they’ll get a good education, but what better way to agitate for change than from within? That’s the advice union reps and liberals are always giving school-choice activists. Don’t abandon the system! Fix it! When it comes to his kids, though, Damon would rather peace out. It’s too bad most of the kids languishing in L.A.’s worst schools don’t have the resources to do the same. This is not an isolated hypocrisy. According to a 2007 Heritage Foundation survey, national politicians sent their kids to private school at a rate almost four times more often than the general public, many while actively blocking attempts to give low-income kids the same opportunity.
Matt Damon Refuses to Enroll Kids in Los Angeles Public Schools. Choice ok for Damon, why not everyone else? http://t.co/yHrTbakeIW
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) August 6, 2013
Meanwhile, at an L.A. teachers union meeting, one new school official had a novel idea for teachers constantly advocating for more funding and less accountability, and generally looking more worried about politics and their own hides than kids:
The Los Angeles teachers union must combat public perceptions that it protects bad teachers and should help them improve with better training, a city school board member told union activists in a wide-ranging speech Sunday.
Monica Ratliff, a fifth-grade teacher who pulled off an upset win in May for the Los Angeles Board of Education, told more than 400 leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles that the public likes teachers but distrusts labor unions.
“People have a fair amount of affection for teachers,” said Ratliff, who drew a standing ovation of cheers and chants. “People have a fair amount of distrust of labor. … If we don’t recognize it, it will be our undoing.”
Sounds like someone Damon could help agitate within the public school system when he’s done dropping his kids off at the academy.
You may remember Damon’s advocacy for public schools from this Reason video in 2011: