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November 02, 2009
In case it needs reiterating, Matt Damon is actually a pretty smart guy. He holds a Best Original Screenplay Oscar. He went to Harvard. He produces documentary films. He volunteers and donates to whole host of NGOs and non-profits. Sure, he's no authority of education, but he's probably the kind of person worth at least giving the benefit of the doubt.
So I was pretty disturbed by a couple of vindictive and downright insulting critiques of Damon that I found in my inbox last week, responding to his appearance at the ?Save our Schools? rally in Washington:
Now, the Daily News article (all 90 words of it) takes two of Damon's unrelated comments egregiously out of context, with no substantive attribution. Moreover, as far as I can tell, Matt Damon isn't even unilaterally opposed to charters! Here's what he did say: ?It's a big question ? there are great charters and there are lousy charters ? they don't necessarily perform better than public schools.?
Even the most fervent charter advocate ? say, Whitney Tilson ? wouldn't disagree with Damon's balanced statement. So why is he ?hugely dopey??
And then, in a Gotham Schools interview, Damon actually showed a whole lot of subtlety in his understanding of the complication of ?co-location? ? where charter schools and district schools share facilities. Here are some excerpts:
The co-location thing is a problem, and that's starting to drive a wedge in the community ? I have a friend at a charter school in Harlem ? at Thanksgiving, turkeys with all the trimmings were handed out to the charter families in front of the other families ? Now, obviously, somebody funding this charter school went, like, ?you know, we gotta give these guys some Thanksgiving turkeys,? and that's a wonderful thing to do, but in its application, it's actually causing a problem.
This is a completely valid point. It's a great blessing that some charters have significant philanthropic backing, but it's also true that that does create some resentment among those kids and families who don't get the same backing ? especially when they occupy the same facilities. Perhaps that's a price we're willing to pay for wider school choice. But it's absolutely worth pointing out.
So here's a final thought on Damongate: at the end of the day, Matt Damon is simply a wealthy and relatively intelligent Hollywood actor with a pet social issue and no professional or financial stake in education reform whatsoever. At a time when almost every other major voice on education reform has a direct professional connection to one of a small number of major education philanthropies, or to a teachers union, we should actually respect the smart, independent voices in this debate, not insult them.
- Mickey Muldoon
Note: Mickey Muldoon, a staff assistant at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute from 2009-2010, is a computer science graduate student at Brooklyn College and previously worked at the New York City Department of Education.