Saturday, August 06, 2011

We Can Do Better Than Matt Damon

Crossposted here on Huffington Post

By now you've most likely heard about or seen the video of Matt Damon speaking out on behalf of teachers at the Save Our Schools rally in Washington, D.C. It was a nice speech where he really seemed to speak from his heart. He shared that the biggest parts of who he is today, are not those that can be measured on a test. As you can imagine, he drew lots of applause from the crowd on that comment.

Most newsworthy though were his comments to a reporter and her cameraman about their assertions about why teachers don't work hard enough. Personally, I think it's been overplayed and it's been bothering me a bit as I question why this is making the news in such a big way.

First off, I have nothing against Matt Damon. I think he's a smart guy and I've enjoyed his movies. I like that his mom is an educator and that he is speaking up on behalf of educators. We definitely need more of that. What bothers me is that he was rude to the reporter and her cameraman when they were trying to engage him in a conversation. A simple question about job security functioning as a motivating factor for hard work, is not a bad question. Is it? I mean, I think that question deserves some real attention. In all sectors of society, aren't there people with no (or less) incentive to work hard because their benefits come regardless? Why should teachers be any different? Are we talking about all teachers?  Are we saying this is the way to "fix the system?" Maybe it's not about salary but about testing.  If teachers teach because we're passionate about it, then why is salary such an issue? These are conversations that need to be encouraged.

But it's a little muddy now because Matt was rude. And we applauded.

So, here he had the spotlight and an opportunity to say something that could really make a difference for so many people, and instead he says to the cameraman, "Maybe you're a Sh**y cameraman!"

I think one of the reason educators have been holding tightly to this Matt Damon thing is because of that feeling of helplessness. Will THIS will be the moment that people will really listen? I mean, because Matt Damon said it so, uh... eloquently?

Sorry, but I think he blew it and by holding him up in high esteem, we are not doing ourselves any favors. 

Damon's speech was OK but I know so many educators who could have totally blown him out of the water. So many who could deliver a speech where the content and delivery would have people feeling truly empowered. Of course, they aren't Hollywood superstars so they're not likely to get the stage time that Damon so easily gets, but the folks at Education Nation are holding an essay contest and I think this gives teachers a great opportunity to have their voices heard.

Enter the essay contest and if you win, they will fly you out to NYC in September to attend the Teacher Town Hall (PDF).

The topic for the 800 word essay is:

What are the biggest challenges you face in your job, and how do you measure your own success on a daily basis?

They also promise to publish the winning essays on their website. If you share your entry with me, I will consider it for publication here on my blog (and on my space on The Huffington Post). If you're interested in having me publish your essay, please send it to me via email at lee.kolbert at

Do you have something to say? Why not give it a shot? I know we can do better than Matt Damon.


Betsy Whalen said...

I hear your point - but personally, I am SO tired of hearing teachers being demonized as greedy, lazy, slackers who somehow as a group are now apparently out to prey on the children they teach - I think it's great to have someone shining a light on how ridiculous the tone has gotten. I agree there are educators who may have given better and more informed speeches -- but none of those educators would have brought it to the headlines the way he did. As a former teacher, I think It's nice to see that kind of support, regardless of whether he was rude to the reporter. And to be honest, I think the cameraman jumping into the conversation was completely inappropriate - and demonstrated to me that their goal was more of a shock interview than a discussion or real debate.

that said, I agree we do need to find ways to bring Educator voices more to the forefront - so they can drive the conversation more, rather than relying on well meaning celebrities to speak for the profession. Not sure what the answer is there though...

Clare Jordan said...

I have to disagree - the question was based around the fact that there could be no motivation to teach other than a pay boost if you don't perform. We know the lingo - but if you try to respond using the same language you will quickly find that that that conversation can be turned against you. You have to deconstruct the laguage of the oppressor (without wanting to sound like a feminist yeah I know) and sometimes the only way to do that is not to defend, but to attack. Well done Matt - I thought at that point that he'd fudge it - but he didn't.

Royan Lee said...

The reporter herself was using an implicitly aggressive stance, so I have no problem with Matt Damon's honest, spontaneous, and emotional response.

Jeff Thomas said...

I hear what you are saying but I'm really happy that Matt Damon brought more attention to this issue than if he wasn't there. I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. As to him being rude, the reporter had her own agenda and although the questions were valid, they were meant to elicit a debate. Our American society listens to celebrities (right or wrong) and at least this time something came out of his mouth that was more than the usual celebrity drivel.

Walter said...

I was with you til it turned into a promotion for an Education Nation contest. Educators need to take charge of their profession ad stop touting movie stars and writing essays. Otherwise public education is about to be privatized, outsourced and dismantled....

Lee Kolbert said...

I'm hoping to give my readers a chance to be heard here (and on HuffPo, where there's likely to be a larger audience) and to give someone a chance to win a free trip to the EdNation Town Hall to be a part of a huge conversation.

As educators we tend to feel like we're yelling into a well. Here's an opportunity to be heard. Not for everyone but I'm guessing that not everyone knew the opportunity existed.

Thanks for your comment!

Kim Cavanaugh said...


I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that I disagree with you. Let me count the ways:

1. This "reporter" was not reporting in any journalistic fashion, but clearly had an agenda based on the organization she represents and the kinds of questions she was asking. The woman was rude and misinformed in her approach as was her mouthy cameraman, leading to Mr. Damon's completely appropriate response. See the full clip at the parent site for exactly what that agenda was and how slanted her questions were here:

(Note the demeaning and smarmy insertion of the clip from Good Will Hunting. Then see Point #3)

2. Who sponsors her? The same equity and venture capital firms that are promoting the corporate takeover of social systems such as education and prisons and other areas where profit is their primary motive and social welfare and the betterment of our society is decidedly not. I suspect Matt Damon was well aware of that before he began speaking. They may dress up their agenda by claiming they want to serve children and improve education through more vouchers and charters, but the facts do not in any way track with the 20+ years of tearing down public education that they have done and their attempts to vilify teachers.

3. Which finally leads me to my main contention. These people are well-funded *bullies*, and at some point citizens of this country who want to insure we have an entirely public education system that is controlled by elected school boards and operated for the betterment of the community--and not by ideologues who hate government and want schools to fail in order to drive their profits. It's pernicious and wrong and contrary to what is best for our nation. But if citizens don't stand up like Matt Damon did and vigorously challenge these people you can be sure we will continue down the path we have been set on by these bullies and their mouthpieces at Fox News and other media outlets.

Engage in discussions? Absolutely. But you can't do that when the other side is entrenched in ideology and won't accept facts or see the failure in logic that drives their arguments. In those cases you must stand up, refute them, and make a strong passionate case that they are flat out wrong and the positions they espouse are bad for our country, bad for our kids, and bad for our future prosperity and well-being.


bgfay said...

I'm happy to hear that everyone here has come to a conclusion similar to mine. Damon responded appropriately since this "reporter" wasn't reporting so much as trying to advance a position. I remember a similar moment with Bill Moyers being ambushed by a "reporter" from Bill O'Reilly's show. (
Moyers was very aggressive with the guy and it was exactly what needed to happen. Damon did likewise and I appreciate him having done it.

I don't think that you're wishing he had been polite so much as rolled over and thankfully he refused to do that.

Jim Flanagans BI Blog said...

I agree with most of the posters here. Did you really watch the whole interview. How can you claim that this was an objective interview in which "innocent" questions are being asked. And, the cameraman... Since whin does the cameraman start interjecting his own comments? Clearly, you have your own agenda.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Betsy--it is so sad to me that simply because Matt Damon is a well known personality, people put more stock in what he has to say than any other educator who is out there in the trenches.

As far as being motivated to teach--I believe we are called to teach. Those who have a gift for it stay with it. Those who don't decide that their talents would be put to better use elsewhere. God gives us the patience, creativity and humility to do this job in the face of criticism and public humilitaion. If one is not happy with what they are doing then they need to move on--if one is doing what they truly love, then they learn to deal witht he junk that comes with it.

Lorri Smith
Conyers, Georgia

Lee Kolbert said...

I agree with most of what is being said in the comments. Problem is, when you resort to name-calling, the original conversation stops and loses focus and that's not in anyone's best interest.

Many of you are proving me right; we CAN do it better than Matt Damon.

Thank you for your passionate responses.

You could totally blow Damon's speech out of the water. In fact, you are one of the people I had in mind when I wrote this post.

Fil Salustri said...

Moderation and cool heads are excellent ideals to which we should all aspire.

But what happens when we get to that "enough is enough!" point? Is it better to keep it stewing inside till you snap and go postal? (All the while letting matters only get worse due to one's inaction?) Or does one make a rational decision to draw a line in the sand and say "This far and no further!"* and, once the line is crossed, do whatever needs to be done (within ethical bounds, of course)?

Howard Beale did it: that's why his character resonated to so many. Chris Hitchens does it all the time.

I wish it wasn't necessary, but none of us are perfect. I see no reason to admonish a person for just being human. Indeed, the real lesson here is to understand how ridiculous a situation has become that such actions become viable alternatives.

* Yes, that's a Picard quote.

Brendan said...

But Lee there was no conversation going on. This was gotcha journalism and Matt did a wonderful job of deflecting her attacks.

The reporter, and I use that term very loosely, was outmatched by Matt Damon. The people you think who would have done better probably would have fallen right into her trap. Lucky for us Matt probably has paparazzi following him 24/7 and knows when and how to respond to baiting questions.

What seems to have happened was the cameraman realized that the reporter was losing and stuck his nose in where it didn't belong. (have you ever seen a cameraman speak during an interview - only a sh*tty cameraman would) Realizing the gotcha interview was failing the cameraman tried to jump in and rattle Matt, which he seems to have done.

No, I think we were very lucky to have an intelligent, informed, and practiced "celebrity" being interviewed.