Matt Damon Joins the Fight Against Good Teachers and Poor Students

The Oscar-winning actor only plays a genius in the movies.

“See, the sad thing about a guy like you is in 50 years you’re gonna start doing some thinking on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life. One, don’t do that. And Two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a f***in education you coulda got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.”

-- Good Will Hunting

Oscar-winning actor and Howard Zinn disciple Matt Damon has demonstrated once again that he’s not actually the Boston boy genius Will Hunting in real life. The star of the “Bourne Identity” and “Ocean’s Eleven” series made an appearance at the July 30 “Save Our Schools” rally at the White House to repeat the teachers union party line and support a broken educational system.

ThinkProgress featured a video of Damon at the event joking about summers in the Hamptons and on a yacht from the supposedly lavish teacher salary his mother earned when he was a child:

Reason TV interviewed Damon and other activists, including _Nation-_contributor Jonathan Kozol:

The subject Damon was confronted with by Reason TV’s Michelle Fields is especially important. Fields challenged Damon with the fact that union-negotiated K-12 teacher contracts make it very difficult to fire poor teachers once they have attained tenure:

Fields: 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:  You think job insecurity is what makes me work hard?

Fields: Well you have an incentive to work harder.

Damon: [Shakes head] I want to be an actor, that’s not an incentive. That’s the thing. See you take this MBA-style thinking, right? It’s the problem with ed policy right now. It’s this intrinsically paternalistic view of problems that are much more complex than that. It’s like saying a teacher is going to get lazy when they have tenure. A teacher wants to teach. I mean why else would you take a shitty salary and really long hours and do that job unless you really love to do it?

Cameraman:  Ten percent of teachers are bad… Ten percent of people in any profession maybe should think of something else.

Damon: Well, OK, maybe you’re a shitty cameraman, I don’t know.

Damon was unprepared to deal with one of the least controversial, obvious, and devastating problems in education today. While he’s correct that the challenges to the educational system are complex, this specific one is very simple – which is why both conservatives and some leftists agree on it.

Making it easier to fire bad teachers is one of the self-evident solutions to the country’s educational shortcomings. The concept of tenure originally was meant solely for the college level. It was there so there could be something real to support the concept of academic freedom. Professors would not have to worry about controversial research and the threat of being fired for exploring unpopular ideas. Tenure usually was only awarded after more than a decade in which a Ph.D.-credentialed scholar proved his devotion to academia. This is out of place in the K-12 environment and certainly does not work when tenure can be achieved in just a few years by those with only a bachelor of arts degree. The only people who benefit are unions who are able to collect dues from the bottom 10% of teachers who should have been fired long ago.

The practical result of tenure for high school and elementary teachers was New York City’s notorious “rubber rooms.” Low-quality teachers and those accused of sexual harassment or other offenses received full salary and spent years reporting to “rubber rooms” where they waited for their cases to be reviewed. Such is the nature of the bureaucracy constructed by teacher union contracts. It’s far easier for administrators to just tolerate their poor teachers than to go to the trouble of trying to terminate them.

The issue was most memorably illustrated in the hit documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman’“ in a sequence called “the dance of the lemons”:

“Waiting for ‘Superman’“ was praised by conservatives but it was made by Davis Guggenheim, the left-leaning director of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

Other leftists who are not in a position to suffer any real consequences for saying so have also admitted this is a problem. MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, perhaps the network’s most devoted union supporter, wrote in his 2010 book Killer Politics:

Every school has a teacher who cannot teach but who keeps hanging on because no one has the guts to deal with the issue. By and large, I support teachers union, but let’s get real. Not every teacher is competent or worth defending. The stakes are too high to allow inept teachers to retain their positions. For children, these years from elementary school through high school are their only chance to learn to read and write.

There’s no war on teachers, only a war on the bad teachers who are ruining children’s lives. Damon is right that teachers should have higher salaries. The reason they do not is union contracts that do not allow merit pay. It’s very simple: fire the bottom 10% of teachers and redirect their salaries toward increasing the income and benefits of the top 30%. This will motivate slacker teachers to shape up, and give star teachers the reward they deserve. There will be higher levels of achievement among students and no need to hit up the taxpayer for more money. Everyone wins – except the teachers unions which will no longer be able to bring in as much money to donate to Democrats.

See Andrew Klavan demonstrate this last point as only he can:

Seeing artists as talented as Damon who are duped into supporting a system which ruins kids’ lives brings to mind another quote from “Good Will Hunting,” this time from the brilliant mathematician who discovered the misguided, self-destructive prodigy:

Sometimes I wish I had never met you. Because then I could go to sleep at night not knowing there was someone like you out there.